Social

God provides

I’m a cash-strapped Peace Corps Volunteer. A lot of it is due to my monthly salary of around $250. But a lot of it too is on my extravagant spending: a weekend by the lake. A $15 meal and a trip to the capital. Hours of phone calls to the states and in-country friends. A new shirt or hat or bag or a couple beers at the end of the day. The money never seems to fit my budget, or more honestly, my budget never seems to fit the money.

I found myself running especially low this month. But a surprise trip to the capital for medical leave gave me per diem to get through. And then just when I thought maybe my $6 a day wasn’t going to cut it, a reimbursement for underpaid housing payments appeared in my bank account.

A couple days later, Akmoor and I went to see a movie. It was the new historical film about Kurmanjan Datka, a queen of some Kyrgyz tribes around the turn of the 19th century. We were standing in line hoping to get tickets for a later showing so we could first go get something to eat. The line was several people long but what made it longer were the couple of people who cut in to buy tickets ahead of everyone else.

I complained loudly in Kyrgyz—the man who cut in said he needed a ticket for an earlier showing. I told him we were all in a hurry and he should have come earlier. He just laughed. His wife asked where I was from and I said, “I’m from an offended country!” She didn’t think that was funny. When the line moved on and the guy who had been right in front of us bought his tickets, he turned and handed us his change. It was 500 som, or $10, almost 2 days worth of per diem for me living in the city. He mumbled something about me speaking Kyrgyz, handed Akmoor the money, and walked away. It was exceedingly generous and very humbling.

So we got to see the movie and eat dinner for free.

These were awesome reminders of the way God provides. And then suddenly I was flooded with reminders of all the ways he takes care of me: A family back in the states who has helped me come home. A host father who slips me small pieces of wisdom and a host mother who always makes sure there’s food on the table, even when she’s not around. Peace Corps doctors who mediate health treatments and rally to my side. Friends who provide emotional support and reach out with community and humor. Locals so willing to host and cheer on and be resilient in the face of adversity.

These are all blessings that God rains down so abundantly and so generously. In our lives God provides for us. He provides for our joy. And in the end, he provides a place for us with him, forever. And in that place of golden streets and crystal sea, I think my salary for serving in God’s kingdom is going to be enough.

How to be happy

There’s no guarantee of happiness.

“Wait—but I thought I was going to be reading about how to be happy?” you say, “And I’d like you to give me back the energy I just expended clicking on your post.”

I’ll send some via e-mail, if you shoot me one first. (But you’ll have to cover e-mail s&h energy yourself.)

Life goes sideways, and fast. Many times in my few short decades I’ve found myself flipping over the handle bars and in that slow-motion moment thinking, “Damn. This is going to hurt.”

The secret isn’t in knowing how to always be happy. You won’t be. You can’t be.

Happiness is about knowing the final outcome.

And only one thing in all of human experience promises a perfect ending—faith in Jesus and forever life with him.

“That’s fair enough for you to say, if you buy into that stuff. False hope I guess is a kind of hope,” I hear some of you saying, “but the first mention of that spiritual stuff is where I sign off.”

But hang on a sec—it’s true, but not only that, it’s truly hopeful.

If it were up to me to create my own happiness I’d end up in one of three places: extremely selfish, surfacely ignoring the hurts of the world and smugly assertive while being hopelessly aware of how sideways my life and everything else was going; or, humble as a doormat and miserably depressed about my own failures, shortcomings and lamenting how life just wasn’t fair for…pretty much everyone; or, at some uncomfortable and uneasy spot in the middle, never being quite sure where it’s all going or why anything matters.

Luckily it’s not up to me. It’s not up to you. It’s not up to the efforts of anyone, except for one man, Jesus. Luckily for us we’re living in an age where he has already come and done the work and we have the opportunity to hear about it, welcome it and live by his life.

What does that mean, to “live by his life” and how does that make us happy?

It’s not about doing. It’s about being.

The fear of what might happen next and just-what-am-I-supposed-to-do-about-it is the biggest killer of happiness. Fear of an unknown future robs our peace, gnaws at our nerves, and holds us hostage to ever stepping out into green pastures by quiet waters. Without an assurance of the final score, we’re just wandering along, hoping to catch our own sort of happiness and hang on as long as we can before it dissipates and we’re left searching for the next oasis of comfort and emotional security.

When we focus on simply the state of being in right relationship with our creator by relying on what Jesus has already done, it no longer matters what happens in life. We can be “content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Life with Jesus means simply living by the thought that his life and work takes the place of your life and work. At that thought there’s no longer anything to do. No ten steps to follow. No qi to absorb. It all comes down to one solid truth:

In the end it’s all going to be ok.

This is one of the most freeing thoughts that can occupy your mind. I challenge you to dwell on this for awhile. Meditate on it. Close your computer, walk outside, look up at the sky and say to yourself:

No matter what happens, it’s all going to be ok.

Living in this truth melts the outer crust of our timidity. It allows us to be happy with situations, with people, with life.

That’s what happiness is. Happiness is the freedom to feel all things and go through all things and to know that it’s all going to be ok. Happiness is allowing yourself to go to the places where all emotions lie and all circumstances dwell and to know that nothing can happen that will change your final outcome.

It allows you to live boldly, love deeply, laugh timbrously, and enjoy thoroughly. It allows you to cry when you mourn, to pray when you hurt and to fall on your knees in those crushing times. God is there in it all, is with you through it all, and no matter what happens in this life, is there at the end to welcome you home.

Work is not a wolf

“Makal” in the Kyrgyz language means “proverb.” Kyrgyz is full of wonderful and puzzling little proverbs – some that match common proverbs often heard in English and some that are real head scratchers. Most Mondays I’ll post one of the more fun ones for you. Let’s see if we can’t make some of these commonplace in America by the time I get back!

Жумуш карышкыр эмес

Jumush karyshkyr emes

“Work is not a wolf”

True to itself and unfortunately quite wholly precedential, there was school today. We were supposed to have the day off. It was planned a week ago or more that all the teachers would use this day to have their required medical check-ups. Well, the hospital in town called last night at 9:00pm to say, “It’s impossible.”

For what reason and how it happened at the last minute I have no idea. I didn’t find out until I woke up at 7:00 and was having breakfast with my host mother who was rushing about getting ready for her first class at 7:30. A bit later I called my counterpart and she was getting ready to head to school as well but added that many teachers didn’t know yet that they had to go to school today and since all the kids were expecting the day off, probably almost none of them would show up. The teachers needed to work on curriculum planning anyway, she said, so it was ok.

I needed to be at home. Not only do I like being at home and lazing about, and especially when I’m told to and have been expecting to do just that for the previous week, but I had promised my host father I would help some with “buckin’ hay.”

I found quickly that I should have gone to school.

These bales of hay were friggin’ heavy. Like, I don’t know, around a million pounds. It didn’t help that the head of the pitchfork kept falling off when I tried to lift the bale up over my head to toss it on the roof of the sheep shack where my host dad was stacking them in neat rows. I couldn’t exactly lift them over my head anyway, and so I would use my knee as a fulcrum, sink the pitchfork handle in the ground, then kind of lift with my shoulder and half hoist half shove the bale onto the low roof.

IMG_1191Upwards is the least fun direction to move stuff

My host dad, always quick with a proverb, must have seen me teetering on the edge of giving up and said in that 66-year-old buckin’ hay voice, “Work is not a wolf. It’s not something to run away from.” My head, already bent from lifting million pound bales of hay with my neck sunk a little lower. How was I going to survive this? We were maybe 8 or 9 bales in on a 100 bale stack.

Work smarter, not harder, Luther. That’s right, I can come up with idioms too, you know.

I built a little series of steps up to the roof out of bales of hay. Then I went and got my host brother.

With the three of us, one carrying a bale, one lifting it on the roof and one stacking it, the work was finished in a little over an hour. The work didn’t turn out to be too much of a wolf, though my hands and arms did look like I’d been mauled by one. Next time I’ll face that wolf with gloves and hopefully, a little more courage and grit.

—-

Edit: Later in the afternoon as I was headed to school I learned that the hospital had changed its mind and so the teachers all left to go get their health screenings. This led to more yard work and further blistered hands. My host father did give me an “atta-boy” though so I suppose the wolf has been scared off, hopefully for good.

Relationships are a marathon, not a sprint

I’m really bad at relationships. Like, really bad. In my life I’ve had 3.5 significant relationships, and all of them have crashed and burned during the 4-5 month range. So as this current one approaches the 5 month mark, I’m getting nervous. In what brilliant way will I manage to mangle this one beyond all recognition rendering it unfit for the gnarliest of salvage yards?

I used to run 800 meter races. The emphasis here is on the “used to.” The thing about an 800 meter race is that it is essentially a controlled sprint. When the gun goes off, the method is to jump off the blocks, sprint into position and then hold yourself right at the threshold of death for a little over two minutes, with your heart trying to pummel its way out of your chest and your legs telling you you should have been finished 700 meters ago.

That is pretty much exactly the way I run relationships. My heart is going so fast it would rather vacation outside my body and looking back I can only think about how I should have ended it several months before I found myself barreling down the track, exhausted and trying to support a brain made of oatmeal with legs made of rubber. With a current record of 5 months for a relationship, this essentially means I should have ended them before they started.

Yet I want to be in a relationship. I want that feeling where my head is in the clouds and my stomach is hovering just below and every swoop and turn and dive makes me weak with joy and excitement. Oh wait—that’s just air sickness and jet lag.

In relationships, I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s only verbally dawned on me that maybe I should take it slow. That maybe the little character flaws I see in her are just called being human. That maybe the little argument isn’t a red flag but just a Tuesday night. That maybe, just maybe a whole future isn’t locked in in a single weekend.

IMG_9732Unlike me, Akmoor has had this Mickey Mouse towel for almost 10 years. Jealous.

This past weekend my almost-five-month significant other, Akmoor, and I met with our pastor to talk about our relationship and ask for advice. We haven’t gone public with our committed relationship yet (you know, “Facebook official” or in other words the true mark of a serious relationship) and we figured it’d be better to talk about it in person before the “likes” and “huhs?” start raining down on our newsfeeds from actual real life friends. The advice he gave suddenly drew memories of advice I received from others over past relationships: “Get to know each other.”

Get to know each other. What could that possibly mean? I asked for clarification. Our pastor was like, “You know, get to know each other.”

Hmm.

I suppose we could do that. I suppose we could meet each other’s friends and do each other’s hobbies and ask questions and have conversations and share activities and be there for each other just to say hey. But how much time is that going to take? I want that relationship now. I want that unshakable trust, that deepest desire, that blind and assured confidence that sticks up for you, even when they know you’re wrong. And I want it immediately.

No. It’s marathon time. It’s time to slow up. I’m never going to make it at this pace. We’re never going to make it at this pace. I’d rather just finish than go for the personal best and burn out before the first water stand. Because a relationship is not in the sprint. It’s not in the kisses that say “I’ll miss you” as you head to the fridge to bring back a beer. It’s not in trying to figure it all out so that you know she’s the one you want to date. You can only figure that out as you go through it—as you go through it in time.

It’s in the slow Sunday afternoons. It’s holding hands on the bus. It’s the comfortable silence. It’s cooking dinner and picking up the kids and rushing off to work and looking at the same TV. A relationship is made bit by bit, shared experience after shared experience. It’s looking at each other and saying, “Ha. I know what you mean. And remember when…?” Yes, relationships are marathons. That’s what they tell me anyway.

Without difficulties, there’s no reason to live

“Makal” in the Kyrgyz language means “proverb.” Kyrgyz is full of wonderful and puzzling little proverbs – some that match common proverbs often heard in English and some that are real head scratchers. Most Mondays I’ll post one of the more fun ones for you. Let’s see if we can’t make some of these commonplace in America by the time I get back!

Жизнь без трудности проживать не стоит

Кыйынчылыксыз жашоону жашап кереги жок

Without difficulties, there’s no reason to live

In this version of Makal Monday, we find ourselves in the middle of a Russian idiomatic saying. Russian culture has had indelible influence on present day Kyrgyzstan, and many of the truisms uttered in Kyrgyz have their origin in the Russian language.

My friend Maksat is yet another king of the proverbial turn and can match almost any circumstance to an image rich phrase. After spending 4 days and 5 nights with him up by the mountain lake Song Kol selling our souvenir Chuko Bones, I too found myself waxing poetic.

Our sales trip didn’t turn out to be the raging success Maksat had hoped. Dreaming of being able to pay off his car with a few short days of selling out of a tent, our long stretches of waiting in between customers gave him plenty of opportunity to reflect on life and just what it means to be going through it. What does it mean to struggle? What is resiliency? What have I learned? What did my father used to say? Where is it all going?

IMG_9655Standing over it all

Maksat’s had his share of difficulties. He lost his father while an undergrad and had to quit school to come home and take care of his mother and household. Shortly after his brother-in-law passed away and so he took on the added stress of helping support his sister who had two children and a third on the way. Because of the cultural duties of the funeral, they had to slaughter many of their animals further adding financial stress. In honor of his father, who had been a math teacher, Maksat enrolled in a long-distance learning program to obtain his teaching certificate and step into his father’s old position. But a teacher’s pay is meager and so Maksat’s been diligently searching for other forms of income.

“The hardship is good in some ways,” Maksat says, “You’ve got something to fight against, a problem to solve, a reason to keep on living.”

Maksat is torn in so many directions—should he try to find work abroad? If yes, where? How much does he want to push against the grueling application processes? How about getting set up with some credit and a new herd of animals? After all, he had scratched out a year and a half long plan of buying and selling cows. Would it be worth it? Or he could go back to school to pursue a PhD in mathematics and work at a university. And what about this Chuko Bones company? Could he make a go of it? Start exporting? Expand into other products?

Maybe it’s his mathematical mind that causes him to search for the proof that life is good and life has meaning. Or maybe he’s just trying to find the most logical path through it all.

During our conversations I chided him a bit on a few of his kemchilikter, or shortcomings. Why didn’t he just choose a path? He had “too many irons in the fire” (he liked that one), was putting “all of his eggs in one basket” (that one not so much), and somehow simultaneously.

IMG_9642Keeping us alive through the protestations of our gasoline heater was certainly one of Maksat’s good traits

We talked about “knocking on doors” and seeing which would open. I told him that sometimes though you just have to put your shoulder to one and push until it gives.

Maybe it’s that I see myself in that place of decision. Here Maksat had an especially good thought: “When you have a difficult decision to make, it’s not the decision that’s problematic. It’s the problem. Your difficulties stem from the problem you’ve found yourself in and making a decision is the way out.” Yet for me, I’m choosing between so many good options rather than trying to figure out how to get out. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to make it easier or harder.

Maybe it’s that we’re blessed by our difficulties. That the lessons we learn by going through them and emerging on the other side enrich our lives in ways we never could have imagined. Maybe it’s the fight that cures us, refining us as in a fire. Maybe that’s the answer, that through it all we find our purpose.

IMG_9673