Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas adjustments

Tags made for the season
My strange feeling of disconnect isn't just because we're in the tropics this year.

I'm enjoying the familiar Advent readings with a dear friend. Listening online to Cambridge and Oxford choirs singing traditional carols renews my spirit. (Mind you, I've avoided pop versions of Christmas music for years.) Artificial pines and firs strung with lights and ornaments are spread around the city. W and I have attended a Christmas concert at an Indonesian church and Sunday services with a nearby congregation.

The most obvious change is how our routines have shifted. These pre-Christmas weeks lack the busy bustle of years gone by. Usually, I bake up a storm, plan the birds and fixings for 2 or 3 turkey dinners, and check the schedule to make sure we're not missing a commitment.

Our December calendar is emptier. Several groups came to the house and new friends drop by for tea or meals. We've had wonderful encouragement by telephone from friends. We look forward to several more festive dinners and breakfasts before year's end. So it's not that we're alone - but the faces of family and old friends are far away. Honestly, we don't expect the calm to last beyond this year.

A wintery cake at the bakery
Restricted mobility is my biggest adjustment so far. Each shopping trip is an excursion. Once we're settled, I'll drive the car or hire the driver who works across the street. (At this point, I drive so seldom that W carries my license and I have no idea where the car keys are.) W prefers to walk so it's not a simple matter of picking up groceries by hopping in the car or taxi. If we find something while we run errands, we often leave it there. Without a car handy, we return on another trip (if I remember what it is). I stay home from many of W's far-ranging treks.

We've prayed - and asked friends to pray - about our house situation: what should we do? Stay or go? The bugs have been an annoyance. But the rain suddenly came through the ceiling again this week and a closer look at the sloping rooflines was worrying.

Yesterday, as the handyman is painting and repairing the hall, he pauses. "How long are you going to live here?" he asks.

"Why do you ask?" W responds. "We would like to stay for a long time."

Palms and pines: our first Christmas abroad
"This roof needs replacement. I can't just repair it," he says. "Soon it will fail." Whaaat?!

W contacts the leasing agents, who send over a building inspection team immediately. The men look briefly at the roof, take in the sagging kitchen cabinets (from which we've just removed our dishes), and say, "We don't need to see more. If you fixed it today, in 4 months it would be unsafe again. The whole wing has to be removed and rebuilt."

We've asked friends to pray with us for wisdom and insight. Now we have two new pieces of our housing puzzle: we can't stay here (which means negotiating a refund on our remaining lease and the damage deposit) and we have the business card of a trustworthy building inspector as we consider other places.

Starting today, it's Christmas week. We're so excited to celebrate Christ's birth in the new setting. Following Jesus sure isn't boring, either.

Read more:
*He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge. Psalm 91:4 NEV

*For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him. Psalm 103:11 ESV

*(About John) And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. Luke 1:76-79 NIV

*In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. Luke 2:1, 4-6 ESV

*And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 NEV

*Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come. Revelation 1:4 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Almighty God, you are the beginning and the end and all that is in between—we thank you for your boundless love and gift of peace.

Great Protector, shelter us from the storms of life, give us refuge in times of trial, and fill us with the peace which surpasses all understanding. Amen.

C. S. Lewis, in The Problem of PainThe golden apple of selfhood, thrown among the false gods, became an apple of discord because they scrambled for it. They did not know the first rule of the holy game, which is that every player must by all means touch the ball and then immediately pass it on. To be found with it in your hands is a fault: to cling to it, death. But when it flies to and fro among the players too swift for eye to follow, and the great master Himself leads the revelry, giving Himself eternally to His creatures in the generation, and back to Himself in the sacrifice, of the Word, then indeed the eternal dance ‘makes heaven drowsy with the harmony’. 

All pains and pleasures we have known on earth are early initiations in the movements of that dance: but the dance itself is strictly incomparable with the sufferings of this present time. As we draw nearer to its uncreated rhythm, pain and pleasure sink almost out of sight. There is joy in the dance, but it does not exist for the sake of joy. It does not even exist for the sake of good, or of love. It is Love Himself, and Good Himself, and therefore happy. It does not exist for us, but we for it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


First it's a steep walk down
through the neighborhoods
Wednesday, December 17
"Yes, this is the post office. But we have no stamps left." A young man smiles as he explains why his little shop cannot take our mail.

W got to the post office earlier this week and successfully mailed some Christmas letters to supporting organizations. But today we have no luck.

We've walked down steep stairs through the neighborhood, trying a new way through the valley. We're headed across the river to Dago, the next hill over. We may have to go with a local person next time. Along the way people look puzzled as we wind through the maze of lanes. They point us foreigners in a general direction but we're sure they know better shortcuts. There's no way some of these very beautiful homes can be reached by car. You have to walk in or, where the lane is wide enough, drive a motorcycle. We wander up and down, through the grounds of a mosque, past very diverse streets, and finally find the main road of the post office and Borma.

Borma is an all-purpose chain, a bit like Walmart but messier. W needs an extension cord and I'm looking for wheels to put under the mop bucket. No wheels, but we find an extension cord. In the back of my mind is a puzzle: how to hang a newsprint roll for planning and thinking in my office? Ahhhh, that towel rack ($5) would be perfect. W says we have all the other boards at home. (They'll keep the paper flat to the wall and let us tear off the bottom.) He tucks the holder into his tote as we walk downhill, looking for a bigger post office ... that is, one with stamps. [When we get home, Pak E has used up all the boards. Oh well.]

Ristole and hot pepper
Lightnings and thunder startle us. Some strikes are within 2-4 sound seconds (less than a kilometer away). They herald a heavy downpour. We whip on rain jackets and spot a bakery across the street. By the time we cross, our socks and trousers are soaked.

It's after noon and we haven't eaten so we leave the umbrella open to dry by the bakery door and go in. My, what a feast. The best pastries are risoles, introduced to us by a guru at language school breaks. Potato and tiny pieces of vegetable fill a deep-fried crust. A little hot pepper is tucked into the end, to be bitten off bit by bit as the pastry is consumed.

Reading the sign: "You are entrance zero waste..."
their English is better than our Indonesian
We eat our risoles and some brownies. Well, they are called brownies, but they are actually brownie-type filling in a tart shell. Not bad. Our meal plus a generous little box full of tomorrow's breakfast cost about $4. The sausage rolls look vaguely European, and W finds a pineapple tart and chocolate-sprinkle cakes.

When we first came, we choked on cold deep-fried food. But now we're used to it and like it. Louise G, one of my heroes, lived for decades in Hong Kong. She told us to take all the pictures we wanted the first year. "After that, everything is like it should be. You won't even notice." She was right. It's already starting to happen to us.

Once in a while I see 4-5 people on a motorcycle and marvel but usually we don't pay attention anymore. The little kids playing and running beside the busy thoroughfare? No one is wandering into the street so all is well. The baby wearing a faux-fur jacket and a hat, tucked against her mother in a thick sling? So what if it's 85oF out; she's used to it and thriving. The cyclists in winter wear and full face guard helmets? The bugs don't hit and the wind whistling by at 20-40km/hr doesn't chill them.

The view once we climb back up
The rain hasn't let up as we walk to catch the angkot home. We'll leave the post office for another day. We are dripping when we climb aboard but shed our raincoats and join the others crammed into the van.

Yesterday we hosted another pastor and his wife for lunch. We instantly find them personable and partner-oriented. They talk about their work, the people we're most concerned about, and how hard it is to forge deep connections. We commit to praying and working together. Our unity is vital to disappointing the devourer who wants to divide the Church. Today we pray for them and for what God has called them to, as well as our own commission.

W gets a beep on his phone while we're out. A young couple sends great news. We ate breakfast together a while back. As is our custom, we asked them if there was something we could pray about. They said they were trying to have children, among other concerns. We prayed then and since. They were delighted to report that her pregnancy was confirmed yesterday! 

God is interested in each person we meet. How privileged we feel to pray as we move around the city. Your prayers are also part of what God is doing.

These feet are made for walking
Ibu A is ill. "She is staying home," says her husband. He's back to chip away the decaying plaster walls where the bugs hide and repaint the outside of the house.  "And we took her mother to the hospital yesterday." W asks if we can pray for them and he says yes. Before we set off, we pray for them and for another woman's work situation.

We have to get the letters mailed. This post office has lots of stamps. W stands in three lines: information, stamps, and postmark. Goodbye, letters. Finally.

We're back at the house by mid-afternoon with a few basic office supplies in hand. The rain has barely started when we walk to the house. Dr A (the landlord) drives by in his blue jeep, the first time we've seen him in months. He is as surprised to see us as we are to see him and doesn't stop or wave. We hope he's inspected the house.

Oh wow! the wall facing the street is gleaming white. "Good job, Pak E! Did Dr A stop by?"

He shakes his head, "No, I haven't seen him." Too bad. Dr A would be pleased with the work Pak E's done. The back porch roof and back bedroom ceiling are no longer caving in. The new drain-spouts work, a blessing on a day where the rain starts and stops over and over again.  (Dr A doesn't need to pay for the repairs until next year's rent is due; W's keeping the receipts.)

A dear friend and I are once again reading the Advent scriptures in tandem. This year I am struck by the hopeless circumstances surrounding the promises of Messiah and God's salvation. No one but God could have arranged history and people's hearts so perfectly for His arrival. Some of our friends are going through difficulties for which there seem no solutions: job anxiety, financial woes, and family breakdowns. We feel privileged to pray for them. In all these things, God has good in mind. He purposefully weaves His grace and love into the worst of times.

W and I miss our families during this season, though we anticipate time with friends and hosting sleep-over company after Christmas. We're also thinking ahead to life groups. What will the year ahead hold for us? For you?

Read more:
*The Lord said to Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon answered, “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” 1 Kings 3:5,9 NIV

*It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for he gives to his beloved even in his sleep. Psalm 127:2 NASB

*Admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 ESV

*Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Great Comforter, we get caught up in the anxieties and worries of our days. Forgive us, we pray. Cast out our worries and fill us with your peace.

On this day, we can see the bounty and beauty you bring to the world. Our thanks and praise for your goodness must be matched with a willingness to demonstrate that goodness to others. Show us the way, we pray. Amen.

C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters (fiction): in which the Devil's apprentice Screwtape twists the gift of pleasure:

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s (God's) ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.

Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return—that is what really gladdens Our Father’s (the Devil's) heart. And the troughs are the time for beginning
the process.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A garden of delights

Another eventful - and event-filled - week is drawing to a close. The washing machine is whirring, the house is clean (thanks to Ibu A's hard work), and W and I are ready for a rest.

Neighborhood girlfriends
Thursday, December 11
Through the Tuesday network, I'm invited to the neighborhood gathering. They meet once a month at a woman's home. This time, we're saying farewell to someone who has lived here for 41 years. It's the lady who lit up the room with a smile and sat beside me Tuesday.

She and her daughter have cooked up a storm: gado gado (Indonesian "salad" with peanut sauce), meats, rice, noodles, fried bananas, and more. That's just on the main table. A large side table holds many kinds of desserts. She has individual boxes of baked goods ready for each one to take home, too. Wow - when hosting a group, is it always this elaborate? Truly amazing spread.

The women tell her how much she means to them and that they'll miss her. We sit on the porch, breezes stirring the dozen or more wood chimes hung from the ceiling. When the meal is done, she hands out plastic bags and the women divide up the leftovers for their husbands to enjoy. We gather all the women around to take a photo. When she asks if I would like to sit next to her, I guess she would rather have her best friends on either side. Two women immediately position themselves on the right and left.

The neighbor's beautiful garden
"And how about a fun one?" I ask, at which they wave and make faces at the camera. They are young at heart! She grabs my arm and leads me back to the dessert table. She parcels up rujak, a tangy fruit salad, for W. (He loves it.) I'm home before 1 pm, salad and a "mosquito-repellent" plant in hand.

Ibu A starts work at 3 with a younger sister in tow. They tidy up and make rice and scalloped potatoes. By then, I'm almost finished cooking as well: 2 loaves of bread, vegetables in white sauce, 2 pans of quiche, sausage in barbecue sauce, Swedish meatballs, and beef rendang. W lays out his coffee station while I set the table and arrange cookies for desert.

Pastor Dave from IES Jakarta meets us at Miss Bee's at 4. He's driven all the way to attend the evening gathering. We ply him with questions over a light meal before walking home together.

A double hibiscus from the garden
We have no idea who is coming to our Housewarming but there's enough food. The number in my head is 20. And by the time everyone shows up, starting 3/4 hour after the open house begins, we have about 20 neighbors gathered in our living rooms. PD prays a blessing over the house, the guests, and the meal before we eat together.

We feel so honored to have visitors. They ask where we're from, while we find out what they've done and how long they've lived in our neighborhood. The man who designed our house and many others is here. He's a distinguished gentleman; we tell him we're pleased by the way the breezes go through the house and the tall ceilings make air-con unnecessary. I meet another writer. (I can't wait to read her blog.)

At the end of the evening, everyone signs the guestbook, smiling and shaking hands at the door. Some of the women who have seen me three times this week kiss both my cheeks in farewell. We pray God's blessings over them and protection over PD on his way back to Jakarta, before falling into bed exhausted.

Steaming rock and sulphuric fumes
In the morning, I walk next door with a bag of beef scraps for the neighbor's dogs. (She said she has 8 - or did I misunderstand? Oh not understanding the language is awkward!) I also have pictures of yesterday morning's meeting. W's printed out a big photo plus two small ones of the "nice" shot - and one of us laughing and fooling around. (When W and I drop by Saturday, she thanks him for the photo memory. She has already given the 2 extra prints to the women on her left and right, so they really were best friends.)

Ibu W's driver Pak I comes to the house at 9:30. He's driving us up the mountain today. Our friends have planned a day off with us. We've seen almost nothing of the surroundings and keep hearing how many natural attractions lie close by.

Sulphur crystals
Josie arrives early and the others - including their daughter from Singapore - come soon after. First, we drive to the Queen Crater of the local volcano, a half-hour away. Pak I has his own route, backroads so narrow we have to pull over for oncoming traffic. But there are not many other cars along the way, unlike the regular route.

After taking pictures and looking into the steaming volcanic bowl, we drive a few miles away. It's a half-hour hike down the trail. I can't believe how much I've missed the forest. Though there are different trees, the ferns and moss look similar. The air is fresh, clean, and about 75oF (25oC). The guides pluck plants along the walk, explaining which herbs to use for healing, which mushrooms are safe or poisonous, and pointing out a two-hundred-year old tree that has survived several eruptions. They give us a few fluorescing rocks to take home.

About to be mudded
Sumathi and I splurge ($8) for a half-hour's treat. While the others wade in the warm pools, our feet and hands are slathered in volcanic mud and massaged. Even after a rinse, some of the powdery grit remains and dries our skin.

The guides blow into one vent and smoke pours out another. All the tunnels seem connected so fanning the fire in one affects the others. We look into sulphur-rich openings that burp fumes and heat before climbing back up.

"Madam, you are very fit," comments a guide as we hike back with them. (After all our walking, what's one more hillside?)

Our next stop is lunch. We've read great reviews about "the #1 restaurant" in the area: Natural Strawberry, attached to a strawberry farm in the hills. The landscaping includes potted zinnias, impatiens, and hibiscus. Once we sit down, the strawberry-flavored gourami (fish) is very good. The mutton saté is so tough we spit it onto the side of our plates: it's got great flavor but is inedible gristle. Oh well. The minute we quit waving our hands, flies sneak onto the food. That's predictable. It's an open-air restaurant.

First it's down-down-down. But
then we have to walk back up
We're happy to head back up and then down mountain roads to the local hot springs, where admission is $4.50. We sit in one of their four big pools and relax. Sumathi steps in with eyes wide - she's not comfortable in the water. But before long she's floating and even swimming across the pool. Wooohooo! = a lovely personal milestone in this warm bath.

We drive home for a supper of leftovers - oh, so much food! from last night. And then it's movie night in the living room. We've promised our friends an introduction to The Princess Bride, which is a hit. I'm happy to clean up after dinner and listen in. We take a coffee and tea intermission, accompanied by Sumathi's banana bread and Indian chips in addition to Christmas cookies.

It's a late night but everyone is in a comfy bed by midnight. We pray for W's mom on her birthday halfway around the world. She has the flu, rather a miserable way to spend the day. How we wish her health, a great Christmas season, and a wonderful year ahead.

We all sleep in. There's quiche, sausage, and bread for breakfast, followed by around-the-table prayers of thanksgiving and petition. My heart is overwhelmed by God's goodness and faithfulness. How often we sense the prayers of those back home! Thank you, one and all.

Ibu A arrives at 8am for her Saturday routines. Today she doesn't have to cook lunch. We're going to reheat and finish the rice and beef rendang if it kills us. Well, it doesn't kill us, but we put the last of it away in the freezer. She washes dishes while we visit.

Before Josie leaves, she negotiates two tricky conversations in Bahasa Indonesian with the helpers about expectations (theirs and mine). No, we did not agree to give a raise after one trial month. A raise and review happen after a year. Please come every two weeks to trim things. The hedge is cut crooked because the concrete wall is thicker there? Um, to straighten it, perhaps we could let it grow wider to match, rather than cutting this end into a narrow ribbon of twigs? Q to helper: Should someone be sweeping the leaves away from the sliding gate? A: Doesn't it stick because of the metal holder? (Nope, it sticks because of debris in the track.) Etc.

May God BLESS Josie for her ministry to us!

Amaryllis hedges in bloom
The neighbor lady is a wonderful gardener. W and I knock on her gate. She's been resting after a relative's wedding but offers to show us around. There are mangosteen, jambu air, and soft-apple trees on her acreage. We sample a few fruits and smell a fresh clove pod, reddish before drying. Staghorn ferns hang from their perches. Dozens and dozens of pots edge the porch and driveway, while hedges of amaryllis and other flowers line the drainage canal. Bullrushes and water lilies fill two bathtubs removed from the house. (The ikan - guppies - in the troughs keep the mosquitoes at bay.) She introduces us to the gardener who keeps things tidy.

Beside a little house for the driver, there's an office and home for J, a longterm tenant and commercial photographer. He says he used to shoot a lot of photos from his ultralight plane but now he mostly operates drones. The guys get into conversations right away about gear, while his Japanese wife and I smile at each other and shake our heads. It's almost 3pm (when Ibu A leaves) so we have to get back so the house isn't left unlocked.

My eyes are filled up with beauty and my heart is warmed by another plant-lover's passion: oh wow, so many flowers to paint in that garden! How gorgeous.

At 6:30 it's dark. W and I walk to the nearby Ethnic restaurant for noodles at supper. Takeaway is cheaper than cooking. We unpack the meal at home and discuss the week behind and ahead. Christmas is just around the corner. It's good to share life with a dear friend and spouse.

Read more:
*My Lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Genesis 18:3 ESV

*He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge. Psalm 91:4 ESV

*...and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:4-6 ESV

*And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 ESV

*Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20 ESV

Moravian Prayer; Immanuel, God with us, we long to be in your presence. Quiet us in the midst of the busyness of this season so that we might recognize and be with you.

Great Protector, shelter us from the storms of life, give us refuge in times of trial, and fill us with the peace which surpasses all understanding. Amen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I win the lottery ... Ummm, did I enter it?

$10 Saté at the Padma Hotel
Wednesday, December 10
Tomorrow we host the second Housewarming at our place, the third gathering in three weeks. It's starting to feel like home.

Monday we shopped for the week's groceries and got a few miles in. My FitBit quit and I haven't had  a response from their customer service.

I clean, cook, and wash dishes most of the day, but also write our Christmas letter. W and I address envelopes and talk about the wonderful people who support us. As we write, each friend is precious to us! and there's almost always a story attached to your names.

Still can't believe we can leave the windows open
in December. At the Padma Hotel.
We walk to an expensive restaurant nearby. (Would be cheap in Seattle or Jakarta @about $10 plate.) The Padma Hotel overlooks the jungle valley between Ciumbuleuit (our hill) and Dago (the next hill). It's only our second visit, but today we celebrate Advent and anticipation in moving forward. We pause to consider what we care most about in establishing IES Bandung. We appreciate the 5 values of IES Jakarta, so will probably transfer them here.

In the evening, I clean up the ants and rice weevils from the hallway by zapping the thick trail with the stove lighter (quick and deadly). Then we spray Bagon repellent and call it a day.

We agree with this "value" of IES Jakarta
We planned our first trip to the post office but the day brings too many diversions. Our neighbor Dr W and I walk to GRHA Guesthouse for a regional women's meeting. It's her first attendance as well as mine, though she joined a few months ago. She teaches abroad so can't always be at the meetings. I join the group as well. Ok, I'm fuzzy on details (a monthly meeting? This lady is known for this? That one for that? A lottery?) as Indonesian flies by on all sides. I need to learn a lot of flashcard vocabulary by next time!

The lady who lives next door sweeps in the door like a ray of sunshine. She teases the women and makes her rounds, friendly to all. She and Dr. W are good friends. I feel flanked by warmth with them on either side of me. I also chat with Lillian, a Dutch woman who organized the event. The two of us are the only ones without black hair. She remembers, "The glory days were in the 50s and 60s, when I was young."

A gathering of educated and distinguished women
"I wish I'd learned the language sooner," I admit to her. "You have no accent in Bahasa." She smiles and says she's lived here for 60 years.

The chairperson makes announcements and Dr W asks me to add an invitation for our Thursday gathering.

Dr. W leans over: "If you win the lottery you can have everyone over. And when you win they also deduct membership fees back to September." Win? Apparently part of this morning's fee was $8+ toward a money pool. They draw names and someone "wins" about $125. Hmmm. "It's a good way to invest in each other," Dr. W explains. "Then someone has a large sum at once."

There's a brief chatter among the ladies: many are older and would rather not venture out at night. The chairwoman looks at me and asks, "Since we can't come in the evening, shall we have the next meeting at your house?"

I'm taken by surprise. I'd be serving a full brunch, if this hotel gathering is anything to go by - and the women are meeting me for the first time. They really want to come over?

"Sure. You are welcome to meet at our house in January." And it's suddenly settled for the next second Tuesday, 10-12.

"We will give you $70+ to buy food for the meal," they tell me. "Part of what you pay each meeting is $3 for food. If it is at your house, you will get that money." They tell me I don't have to keep receipts.

Then someone draws names ... and I win the lottery. God knew the women were coming over but I am surprised - and amused. What next! I stand to bow with my palms together at nose level and say thank you.

"I apologize for winning my first time. We look forward to hosting you at our house in January." We may have to do something about the steps to the house. Some of the older women had trouble with the same number of stairs at the hotel.

The craft show on the way home
The hill where we live was the hotspot for the last generation of doctors, government officials, educators, and scientists. The 30-some women at the table come from all those groups. Some are practicing physicians, lecturers, and researchers. Among them are grandmothers, mothers, spouses, and siblings of government ministers and other influencers. What am I doing at the table?

"Our neighborhood has no problems with utilities because the family members of the person in charge lives here," I am told. 

There's another meeting for women in our neighbors on Thursday morning. "Please come!" says the hostess. Ok, I'll be there.

She's moving to another one of her homes in February and American friends of friends are moving here then. "Please look at the house when you come for the morning," she offers. Her place is similar in size to ours; the family coming has 3 or 4 kids.

We stop by Dr W's faculty office on the way back. They teach special chemistry courses, renting spaces at a hotel. The fitness facility is good and the pool looks inviting. Going back to school? Not so much. We browse a retired faculty gathering. They have a craft fair at the back: batiks ($5 for 4 meters) and jewelry. I spent my little wad registering for the group earlier. A really good singer on stage is followed by someone who is probably tone-challenged. Dr W and I then explore the restaurant and ballroom which can be rented out for events.

The tinsel arrived in a package from my folks, but I
found the stone bowl in our flowerbed.
On our walk home, Dr W points out who lives nearby and refuses to be introduced to someone she suspects of corruption. I admire her principled approach to life and value her insider's perspective on culture and what's considered right and wrong.

Meanwhile, work continues in our house. The living room is almost up to "regular" condition. That is, the big cracks in the plaster are repaired, water damage is cleaned up, and paint goes to the ceiling rather than ending where the last painter's bamboo pole reached from the ground.

The first thing to greet me in bed (besides W) is an ant. Squish. Go away.

Climbing up the white wall
on a homemade scaffold...
A local artist drops by in the morning. Two weeks ago he convinced us to buy 2 large paintings of local scenes ($8 each). He has made frames (another $8) and staples the canvas to them. That takes care of two bare bedroom walls. The artwork here is unlike the art we sold in Seattle. How nice to use those funds gradually = the house feels more lived-in. Soon I'll pluck a few flowers and take out my watercolors to make my own paintings.

The handyman sets up his bamboo trellis and hangs a length of batik fabric that Dr. H brought last week. It drapes down the tall end wall of the LR. Another piece in place, portable enough to move when we change our minds.

Our shopping list is boring essentials: bulletin board, envelopes, and paper for the office. A return-address stamp. Tension rods to put a curtain up in a bedroom. After checking that off, I'll be cooking for tomorrow most of the day.

... to hang a bright focal point.
"Bagus (good)," says the handyman.
Read more:
*Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more;  the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. Isaiah 60:1-3, 19-20 NIV

*I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jeremiah 31:3 NIV

*Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. John 11:25 ESV

*In love God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:4-5 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Loving God, we are blessed to be your children, recipients of your amazing love. Help us to share that love in our families, in our churches, and with those who have not experienced it. Amen.

Monday, December 8, 2014

"You're stuck with what?"

Are there things in your life that you can't change? Have something you can't live with, except the options seem limited so you're stuck with it?

Before: dreary red and dirty
When we first saw this house, I almost fell over in the master bath. The fixtures were an ugly maroon / rust / deep red. I couldn't even describe the color and I sure couldn't imagine that someone liked it enough to outfit an entire bathroom in it.

Then this week I saw the 2015 "Color of the Year: Marsala." Whaaaat? So our bathroom is hip, chic, and totally in? Who knew. Apparently someone really likes what I could barely tolerate.

I flipped through all kinds of colors chips and accessories on the computer, comparing them against the brown-red. Finally I saw a sky-blue that cheers up the depressing shade. I found a bath mat at ACE Hardware with that color and W brought our old white and swirl-a-blue-Sharpee curtains from Seattle.

Over the course of a few weeks, Ibu A and I scrubbed the hardwater stains off the floor tiles, tub, and sink. I bleached the tired grout and W replaced the cloudy mirror and the lumpy grey grouting around the sink. The handyman built a new drawer under the sink and removed the mould- and termite-infested one.

After: cheery, bright, and clean
And somehow it works. I don't mind our bathroom anymore. Those of you who know how visual I am realize why I wonder if God performed a miracle.

When our surroundings - people, things, resources, or ideas - seem overwhelming or impossible, we have at least a few choices:
  • Freeze. Decide there's nothing you can do and hate every minute.
  • Sit tight and pray. Hope things will improve. Sometimes the situation gets better without our help or meddling.
  • Look around at the possibilities. What might improve things? Can someone who knows more than you advise you? (Coaching is great for exploring your options.) 
  • Think outside the box and try the unexpected. Is there anything you haven't thought of yet? Sometimes weird fixes are worth a try - and you might have a one-time solution for your problem. ("Are drywall corners sturdy enough as a cheap curtain rod if hung on hooks?" Yeah, we did that in our family room years ago. =$10 for 38 feet of windows. Not another person knew what was up there. What's not to love?)
  • Try something new. (For example, have you ever tested a new recipe on dinner guests? Someone at the table will probably like the dish even if your family doesn't think it's great. Right?)
Jesus is a good role model in thinking beyond the expected. 
  • He was born in a manger and died on a cross, hardly bookends for a conventional life.
  • He challenged traditional ideas by emphasizing a transformed life rather than religious rules. (For example, he reframed conventions of purity and washing with principles for separating self from defilements of the heart.)
  • He used everyday situations of farming, herding, and finances in stories to explain revolutionary ideas of heaven's values, true humility, and service to others. 
  • He asked his disciples to do the impossible = feed 5000 people. He had them to look around for what was on hand. Then he performed an extravagant miracle with the bare amount they found.
  • He stepped into a fishing boat when the crowd on the shore was pressing in and he couldn't be heard. (Have you ever read of other rabbis teaching from a boat?)
Are you facing the impossible? What are you being called to do? 

Look around carefully. What is in your hands? Who is waiting nearby? In what ways might God be preparing an unconventional or unexpected solution?

Read more:
*Remember the days of old, consider the years of all generations. Ask your father, and he will inform you, your elders, and they will tell you. Deuteronomy 32:7 NASB

*If you seek the Lord, he will be found by you. 2 Chronicles 15:2 ESV

*He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom. Isaiah 40:11 ESV

*Everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:10 ESV

*Paul wrote to Timothy: I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 2 Timothy 1:5 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Faithful God, hear us when we cry out to you. Let us dwell in your presence when we seek you—help us to find you even when you seem hidden. 

Thank you, great Teacher, for those who have passed on their faith and stories of you from generation to generation. Give us words and courage to teach those you have placed in our lives. Amen.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

What 5 things would you add to an empty jar?

Over a week ago, I ran across an interesting idea. What if my life today was a blank slate or an empty jar? If I took out everything in my life and refilled it only with things that are absolutely necessary to me, what would I choose?

W and I had a long drive ahead of us so we discussed our top 5 non-negotiables. As you read our short-list, let me challenge you to consider the top 5 things you can't live without.

W and I had the same list, except for #3:
  1. God. He's not a cliche or the answer we "should" give. He is central to us. His love is overwhelming. Encompassing. How could we live without knowing our sins are forgiven and gone, day by day? That his constant care surrounds us?
  2. Each other. Far away from familiar things, our relationship is more important than ever.
  3. Our essence. No matter how we'd try to conform to others' wishes or plans, this would remain unchanged. Since we were kids, W and I have been intensely curious, learning, moving things around, and absorbing life. We teach and mentor to share our delight and appreciation to God. 
But the way we engage people and the world is distinct:
*He values knowledge: "HOW? WHY? WHAT?" His quest to know (theology, how things work, places, etc.) means he's always inquiring, acquiring, and exploring facts and procedures. He loves to pass on what he learns. He often says, "What I love most is learning about God and talking about him with friends."

*I value beauty: "WHO? WHERE? WHEN?" Looking at the hearts and talents of people, this big wide world, and the creative process of life, I savor beauty (not just "prettiness"). I love to draw out the possibilities of God-with-us and God-among-us. I like connecting people, resources, and ideas so they're more than the sum of their parts. Entering a room, I automatically wonder, "Who / what belongs together?"

    4. 5. We had a hard time ranking two final things. They are so entwined that there's no hierarchy (since our kids have grown up and moved out). One is our family and friends - how we love you! 

But we have left most of you behind to engage in the other: serving God. We used to sing, "Where he leads me I will follow," and so we've done. We're exploring how that service will look in the future on our adventure of faith.

If you had to choose 5 things - anything at all, without considering what others would think or how they might judge you, what would you put in your jar? Share your list in the comments below.

Read more:
*Boaz said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you.” They answered, “The Lord bless you.” Ruth 2:4 ESV

*In the Lord my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. Psalm 28:7 ESV

*Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Luke 1:46-47 ESV

*John wrote: Peace to you. The friends send you their greetings. Greet the friends there, each by name. 3 John 15 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Holy One, you know and call us by name and pour out your blessings upon us. We give thanks today for the friends and loved ones who share our journeys of faith. 

Let all that we are give praise to you, our Savior! May our thoughts, words, and deeds reflect our thankfulness to you, our God. Amen.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Guess who's coming for dinner?

The meat department of a sprawling food and dry goods store
= one counter with chicken parts on ice
Thursday, December 4
Seven tiny ants run out of my computer keyboard as I write. I don't know why they love the MacBook but it's always got ants coming out of it. Sigh. Squish.

The lizards chirp and their footpads stick with a sucking sound on the beams overhead. "Go guys. Eat those ants, and while you're at it, chew up the mosquitoes that are biting me!" My feet are scratched silly around the itchy bumps, despite the insect repellent.

W and I aren't sure how many people will show up at the Open House / Housewarming in the evening. Several reply. A few cancel at the last minute. And some say they might bring friends along.

Hospitality takes more work here because everything is unfamiliar. I typically think through the details of an event and write down what I might forget. (That started years ago, after I left a bowl of red jello in the fridge instead of serving it to company. Who wants to eat jello by yourself? Ugh. Actually, who likes jello? What was I thinking?)

Smiles all around
When we shop, we have to go to a few stores; we're still learning about their specialties. The meat department of the big Borma store consists of a counter with chicken parts on ice. Mangos, papayas, and other local fruits abound but vegetables are limited. We buy beef, eggs, and potatoes at another store.

Two pieces of glass are delivered via motorcycle before noon: the parents of Josie's student are glasscutters. One pane is for the top of the dining cabinet - voici: a drinks counter. The other replaces a missing pane in a storage unit - voila: a "china-ish hutch."

I glance at my list. Almost done. Oh oh, we have too few serving spoons. What will we use for each dish? At least we have enough serving platters and bowls. (Our trip to the porcelain factory when we first moved here wasn't excessive after all.) It must be time for a long afternoon nap. W and I relax for a few hours.

Getting to know each other
At the stated time, people we've met all over Bandung knock on the door, leave their shoes on the covered porch, and walk in. Each picks up a plate and fills it with food. The initial meeting of strangers is a bit awkward. But then the introductions and laughter begin. The house feels cozy and welcoming.

We are surprised by the breadth of backgrounds and where everyone has been, including Spain, Czechoslovakia, England, Holland, India, Singapore, Canada, USA, China, and Vietnam. Over half are Indonesians, some well-traveled. Our guests include:

  • students met on the angkots (public transportation minivans)
  • FB contacts - including a young man who walks in, looks at W, and remembers their chance encounter at the Apple (Computer) store a few weeks ago
  • faculty from nearby universities
  • dear friends and language school classmates
  • gurus who worked hard to instill Bahasa Indonesia (language) into us
  • two friends from IES Jakarta who drive out for the evening
  • young professionals
  • a young woman with a heart for slum dwellers and orphans

A quick snap at the table
It was fun. Our helper first shows up at 8am - and realizes she isn't expected until 3pm. She goes back home and arrives in the afternoon with her younger sister in tow. They wash the floors, cut fruit, and cook rice and Ibu A's yummy scalloped potatoes. (By the time they leave at 10pm, dishes are washed and mostly put away. So glad for good help!)

W and I prepared food in the morning, including a first stab at Beef Rendang. Beef is stewed in spices and coconut milk for hours. (I tried the 2-hour "stew" setting on the rice cooker. Sadly, the cooking temp was too hot. The stew needs to simmer instead of boil.) One of our evening guests points out that 4 envelopes of spices would have made more of an impact on the amount of beef we made. We also have 2 big pans of French Toast/quiche. A platter of Bockwurst with barbecue sauce disappears quickly. The enormous fruit bowl begins to empty.

Selfies abound
After the savory foods, it's time for coffee and cookies. W's been making a coffee concentrate that simplifies serving coffee to a boiling kettle and a pitcher of concentrate. I baked a few weeks ago so I just arrange the goodies on serving plates. Whew.

Among the memorable moments:
  • Our Seattle friend asks if she can see a live termite. I nod, "Sure, right this way." She grabs the stove lighter and burns 7 termites off the walls and the kitchen cabinets within a minute. Go Avery!
  • Sharen tells us about her Christmas project, collecting children's clothing and donations for impoverished young families.
  • With the help of an extension pole, guests take a lot of selfies.
  • Most exchange WhatsApp numbers and promise to stay in touch.
  • Guests gift our Christmas tree with a traditional puppet couple. 
  • The fruit gift basket is full of things we haven't seen before - and a few we recognize (but haven't found in North American fruit stands).
  • Our friends bring a package mailed to the language school by my folks, filled with Mom's home-baked cookies and Christmas goodies. Ah, Mom and Dad, we miss you!
If you recognize these fruits, chances are you grew up in
Indonesia. Thanks, Pauline and Josie!
After a busy event, I sometimes hear Mr. T's voice (from the 1980s TV program, the A-TEAM) in my head. I hardly ever watched the corny show but one line has stuck with me. He used to crow with glee when a goal was reached despite all the disasters along the way: "I love it when a plan comes together."

That's how I feel at the end of the day. God is good and life is fulfilling. Accomplishments and successes don't depend solely on hard work or personal gifting. Sure, we get better at doing certain things. They become easier. We develop skills and find out what we love to do. But - regardless of our best-laid plans, the outcome belongs to God.

Proverbs 16:9 reminds us: In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps. All our worries, anxieties, and efforts can't guarantee results. Neither can our talents and experience. The following quote has sat on my desktop for over a year as we've transitioned to Indonesia:

It's recovery day so I plan to sleep in. Therefore I'm soundly asleep at 7:30 when the phone rings. I reach for it and hear: "The tree man is coming at 8 and you can have some branches. I won't be here after 8:30 because I'm driving to Jakarta." I'm disoriented. What?

Oh ... earlier this week, Dr. H came by for tea. She left a wonderful piece of batik fabric to hang on a long empty wall. Her gardeners are trimming bushes today; I'm welcome to have some branches for hanging the batik. Aaaah. I hope I wasn't too incoherent.

W and I walk a few blocks to her house about 11, after a late breakfast of yesterday's leftovers. Her housekeeper shows me the branches and then hands me a traditionally carved hanging rod. Wow! We take them home, grab our tote bags, and head to town on the angkot.

W is looking for the shop where he can sign up for cable TV. We can't get captioned channels without cable but we need the captions to understand Indonesian programing. Seeing the words - whether they're translated or not - helps us decipher what is going on and improve our language skills.

Side dishes: little skewered eggs, meat, and deep-fried soy
We walk a multi-kilometer loop, following cheerfully-given directions from a half-dozen helpful bystanders. Finally, W gives up. "I have 5 possible locations on the online maps. None of them seems to be near here!"

We stop for a late lunch at a Bangkok Soto Ayam warung. Oh, Bangkok = Thailand. Maybe a Pad Thai would be good. The server says they're out of the specials (Indonesian chicken combo) and the only thing available is chicken soup. No Thai food anywhere in sight. But the chicken broth is excellent. She brings pay-what-you-eat side dishes that are brown and beige as usual. We share a skewer of croquettes (deep-fried flour and potato, served cold.) It's ok - but we leave the quail eggs, liver, and other things on the plate, waving away flies who buzz around and volunteer to sample the food. I can't imagine how many flies have already been on it. When we leave, the almost-full dishes are passed to other diners. The bill for $2 includes our hot sweet teas.

My FitBit does a "happy dance" for 10,000 steps as we walk toward home. I'm glad to be out of the house and moving. W wandered around the city by himself all last week while I rested after the end of language school. This week we hung around the house because he was ill. One way or another, we get "down time."

The old military equipment beside the café is interesting,
but the mangos hanging low enough
to knock the heads of passersby catch my eye.
We drop by the corner store a block from our place, the first visit for me. Aha! Those beautiful orchids on the wall that I've admired from the street have price tags ($5-10). They're tempting for a mad plant-lover but we walk away with a few little containers of coconut milk and a bottle of Larutan Penyegar that looks like clear baking flavor / extract. It turns out to be a remedy for sore throats. Whatever it is, it has no taste. 80c for all.

The orchids put me in a mood for flowers. As we go in our gate, I detour to pluck orange blooms from a tree behind the house. The white flowers beside the walks have evolved into green balls. They look so pretty in the vase. W starts his nap at 5pm and falls fast asleep for hours. He's still not completely well. He walked slower today and actually gave up on a location = clear signs of not being 100%!

A bouquet from the backyard
The cats outside are yowling. It must be mating season. They've cried like babies and sung like tortured souls for the last three weeks. Four sang a quartet on the porch the other day. We groan as we watch them entwine on the side streets: "Oh no, not more kittens!" The neighborhood is already overrun.

Tomorrow Ibu A shows up at 8am to sweep and wash floors and dust the furniture. Her husband is still working his way through the house: he was up on the garage roof trying to fix the leaks today. Wouldn't it be great to actually use the storage area that we've rented for the past 4 months? He also installs sliding manual locks on the exterior doors for security (our doors open out) and paints the ceilings he replaced this week in the laundry room.

Read more:
*Joseph said to his brothers, “Do not quarrel along the way.” Genesis 45:24 ESV

*So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:7, 9-10 ESV

*Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:3 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Mighty Counselor, we struggle to be respectful and loving towards those with whom we disagree. Guide us in paths of peace, give us ears to listen to one another, help us to bear with one another in love, so that even in our disagreements we may witness to your love. Amen.

C. S. Lewis, on prayer in Miracles:
When we are praying about the result, say, of a battle or a medical consultation the thought will often cross our minds that (if only we knew it) the event is already decided one way or the other. I believe this to be no good reason for ceasing our prayers. The event certainly has been decided—in a sense it was decided ‘before all worlds’. But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really cause it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering. Thus, shocking as it may sound, I conclude that we can at noon become part causes of an event occurring at ten a.m. (Some scientists would find this easier than popular
thought does.) 

The imagination will, no doubt, try to play all sorts of tricks on us at this point. It will ask, ‘Then if I stop praying can God go back and alter what has already happened?’ No. The event has already happened and one of its causes has been the fact that you are asking such questions instead of praying. It will ask, ‘Then if I begin to pray can God go back and alter what has already happened?’ No. The event has already happened and one of its causes is your present prayer. Thus something does really depend on my choice. My free act contributes to the cosmic shape. That contribution is made in eternity or ‘before all worlds’; but my consciousness of contributing reaches me at a particular point in the time-series.