Chronicles of Growing Courage

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Back to the Future Meets Twilight Zone.

"Sometimes I can't understand what's the good of keeping a diary. I never say anything worth reading. When I am an old lady, it certainly won't make interesting reading to glance through this."

My grandmother, who wrote that at age 20, could not have been more wrong on all counts. Sadly, she did not live until she was an old lady, dying unexpectedly at age 54. And the reading is quite interesting to a granddaughter who has always been curious about this woman who longed to visit Africa so much that she kept a pet monkey and alligator in the bathroom.

I must say, however, it gives one a queer feeling to be reading the longings and frustrations of one's girlish grandmother. The diary spans two years, and it is right at the time when my grandfather was actively courting her.

"Oh, I long for him, " she writes. "Does he love me?" Any girl can relate to her back-and-forth inner turmoil of endless analysis and second-guessing mixed with wild hopes and passionate outcries. When he travels to Hong Kong as a merchant marine, she counts the long months down. "Its been four weeks since I've seen him." Fact is, if he hadn't loved her and married her, I wouldn't be reading this!

This was also the time when my grandmother was in a tremendous amount of mouth pain, and was slowly having her teeth pulled. Halfway through the first year, she decides to have all of her teeth pulled, which results in a very painful two weeks and numerous frustrations at adjusting to dentures. Those dentures just kept popping out at the worst times!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Alpine Grief

I wade into grief slowly
as if it were an alpine lake
each step with breathless gasping
its frigid bite meeting warm skin.
So I wait
until each body part
grows numb
the thousand poking needles
as if a thin paper
suddenly shields my skin.
Finally, I am immersed
and I carefully tilt back my head
to press my nose
into the air
as the water covers my face.
I wait
feeling the throbbing cold
complete its path
through my skin, muscles, nerves, and bones
until it hits my core
until I am fully conscious
of my submersion.
And then, only then
do I slowly turn around
layer by layer
my body emerges
dripping, sodden
until I stand on dry ground
once more.
But even then
the memory of the dark waters
remains in the faint, shimmering droplets
perched on my skin
sending goose-bumped shivers
across my body.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Dance

I shyly turn towards God
eyes lowered
bashfully aware
of my pock-marked soul
my greedy agenda
my sucking thirst for affirmation.

And yet
like a whisper of grasses
lisping across your skin
as you stride through the meadow's faint path
I feel the first fruits
of a healing touch
so potent and powerful
that I dance around its spotlight
putting one toe in
feeling a shiver of delight
before quickly drawing it out.

My courage grows
I put two arms in
but the shocking reality
of a love unconditional
is too much
I quickly draw them out.
My self protective fierceness
like China’s great wall
slowly crumbling
not against my will
but still slowly
as my reticent modesty
fears too much
too soon.

naked one day
I will stand
without shame
fully embracing
the wondrous delight
of being loved.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tribute to my friend Praise

You stood
on the edge of the cliff
looking at the other side
toes hanging over the lip
hair blowing in the wind
your infectious laugh
echoing against the beauty surrounding you.
You so intently
the complexity
and simplicity
of life
you did not have time
to worry about the chasm.

But this is you:
If you loved,
you did so wholeheartedly
If you cried,
you poured your heart out
If you laughed,
you awoke a sleepy room
If you listened,
you did it intently
If you sang,
you shared your soul
If you spoke,
with honesty and vulnerability.

We weep for what could have been
but we celebrate what was
A life that did not hold back
waiting for the right time to begin.
You lived openly, passionately
as if each day was your last
inviting others
without discrimination
into the warm circle
of your friendship.

Last week
you did not know
how quickly your death approached.
But someone who lives the way you did
need not change too many things
had you but known.

we all stand with you
on the edge of the cliff.
We forget
how narrow the chasm
between this side and the next.
Some of us are too distracted
with worries and anxieties
overcome with regret and sorrow
preparing to begin living
distracted with empty pleasures and entertainment
fearful of the other side
forgetting our purpose.
We do not embrace life
so wholeheartedly
as you did.

We strain to see you
on the other side
Our human frailty
obscures our vision.
But if we close our eyes
and use our faith
we can see you
walking with Jesus
in the open, flowered field
your beautiful dress
blowing in the wind
"Look!" you say, pointing.
"I see the ocean!
Jesus, did you know that is my favorite place?"
You throw your head back
and laugh
for the sheer joy of it
for the beauty untainted
by human sorrow and pain.

You are doing well, Praise.
But we are not.
You have left an impossible hole
we cannot fill.
We stand at the chasm
our eyes closed
so that we can see you
But one day we will open them again.
And on that day,
may we treasure life
a little dearer
may we give to others
more freely
may we forgive easier
love deeply
celebrate the moment-by-moment
pain and sweetness of life
so that we honor your life
so that your special spirit
remains with us always
until the day
when we, too,
step across the chasm.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Farewell, Tuchekoi and Southeast Queensland

What a fantastic trip! Some of the kids were crying as they boarded the bus that would take them to the airport and back to Hong Kong. I, too, felt a mixture of the sweet, painful sadness that comes at the end of an experience that has been significantly valuable and memorable. Truly, Camp Tuchekoi is a unique and special place.

As a sidenote, the really good pictures were taken by my friend Allison. I must give credit where credit is due!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Biking Adventures: Part 2

“It was kind of a faith journey,” the 14-year-old boy earnestly said to me. C. was describing what had happened when he had finally put his mountain-bike-learning into practice on the students’ five day wilderness expedition (See earlier post for C.’s story on learning to ride a bike the first time).

“There was a lot of rocks and I kept going off the trail as it got narrower and narrower. I was getting nervous and finally my bike went completely off the trail and I had a big crash. Everyone else had already gone down the steep hill…I was all by myself and I began to cry and felt very scared. I wanted to give up.” C.’s gentle face grew livelier as he continued his story—he was almost unrecognizable as the timid, shy boy he had been three weeks earlier at the beginning of the program.

“The whole group stopped to wait for me at the bottom of the hill and started to encourage me. K. came up and brought me lunch and prayed for me. I decided to try it again. As I began riding, I felt that God was protecting me with a shield that went around my whole body. As I felt this, my inner confidence came back once again and I was able to ride down the hill.”

He paused, collecting his thoughts into English. “Many things have changed inside of me since I have come here, “ he said. “I am not the same person.” He smiled, a warm, contented smile, full of life and light. It was the smile of a person who had confronted his inner fears and come out the other side, an inner-confidence born of struggle and hard choices. I smiled back and patted him on the shoulder. “That, “ I said firmly, “is a great story, C.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Cult of Bindy

I went to the famous Australia zoo on my day off, home of the Crocodile Hunter. Although it was not as expansive as some of the zoos in America, it was far more interactive. It was both shocking and enjoyable to see trainers lolling about the grass with tigers, being able to wander around "Roo paradise" to feed kangaroos, and being able to pet a koala. In such situations, some people tend to get in a "limited resource frenzy" similar to the selfish panic found in a grocery store parking lot when there are too few spaces. I would spot a lone kangaroo in the bushes, but by the time I started to make my way over there, another family had literally run over to the kangaroo and started shoving feed toward its mouth. Those kangaroos seemed to be on a permanent Thanksgiving day bloat, barely having the energy to hop away when the kids grew too annoying.

Despite the novelty of being able to pet the animals, the most curious part of the day for me was the zoo's focus on Bindy, the late Crocodile Hunter's 12-year-old daughter. Bindy has taken center stage in her dad's legacy, as evidenced by her own DVD series, book series, posters and pictures everywhere, and parts of the zoo named after her (Bindy's pony rides). This particular day was her birthday, and therefore all kids could get in free. The birthday had a Hollywood theme (very ironic for me, of course); all the staff were dressed for the part, and there were various "Hollywood-like" events (such as showcasing a party stretch Hummer that everyone could peek into).

The climax of the day was a showing of her new film Free Willy 4 (Free Willy is still going strong over here...anyone in the States know they made it past 2?) followed by the grand finale of her blowing out her birthday candles in the stadium in front of hundreds of cheering kids. At this point, my friend and her daughters and I were wandering around the Birds of Prey, admiring the huge Wedge-tail eagle when the screaming began.

"Bindy's blowing out her candles...we've got to get down there!" The seven year old exclaimed excitedly, grabbing her mother's arm. "Please please please, can we go see Bindy?" The five year old pleaded.

Their mother rolled her eyes to me and let their 14-year-old sister escort them down to Bindy while we finished at the bird exhibit.

"I just can't get over this Bindy thing," I said. "How good can this be for a twelve year-old girl? And don't you Australians abide by the 'tall poppy syndrome?'"(When one person starts getting a little full of himself/herself, other Australians like to knock him/her back down to their level).

"Well," she said with a glint in her eye. "Although Steve Irwin was Australian, his wife is actually American, so we kind of expect this kind of thing."

This may be true, but I will add that the zoo was packed and there were no shortage of excited kids longing to see Bindy. I myself made it through the whole day without catching a glimpse. I guess I'm just going to have to catch her on Free Willy 4.