The Bookshelf: All Our Waves are Water, a Review

(I received a free copy of this book)

I first read Jaimal Yogis’s work in his book The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love. Fear is a common theme in my own writing – feeling it, describing it, facing it, overcoming it, living with it…so I was curious about his perspective on fear, through the lens of surfing. It was a beautiful and challenging exploration of living with fear, but not bending to it. Here is just one quote, of many, that I wrote down:

“If we can understand fear rather than demonize it, reframe fear as a natural part of our biology rather than avoiding and repressing it, stretch our comfort zones just a little every day and walk peacefully and courageously into those scary memories of embarrassment and trauma, we will gradually learn to transform fear into focus and compassionate action, and our sons’ and daughters’ world can be better than the one we live in. Will we collectively freeze, fight, and stagnate? Or will we learn and act?”

When Jaimal contacted me to review his newest book, All Our Waves Are Water, I was eager for the book to get all the way to Djibouti. I’m not a surfer, but a runner, so a fellow athlete. I’m not Buddhist but I seek to uncover the holy and the Divine in daily life and the exploration of all faiths intrigues me. I am a lover of water. I grew up in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes. I’ve lived 15 years within a mile or two of the ocean. So – sport, faith, water, book. So many of the things I love, yes, this would be a great book for me to read and review.

I read it in two days, even during the holiday season.

Jaimal had a significant challenge on his hands in writing this book. Faith, especially the mystical aspects of it, is one of the hardest things to describe in words without sounding, well, not quite sane. And to get non-surfers to understand and appreciate the thrill, terror, and irresistible pull of a wave without sounding condescending, redundant, or confusing, must have felt daunting. I’ll admit I didn’t quite grasp all the surfing scenes, or quite understand some of his more deeply experienced religious moments. But that works in this book. Faith is embracing mystery. The surfer’s high, or low, like the runner’s high or low, is intangible. Writers throw words at meditation or the ocean or God and they are our attempts to name the unnamable. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t exactly picture what he described and instead, I imposed my own mystical faith experiences and sport experience over his, and felt a sort of kinship.

The book is poetic, especially when he writes about the water and describes waves. It is a story about friendship and love and faith and surfing around the world. But ultimately, it is a story about Jaimal’s search, which is the search of so many of us. Through nations, girlfriends, friends, studying, working, yoga, meditation, and surfing, Jaimal takes the reader along on his search for self and for grace.

He finds both, even while acknowledging that every day presents a fresh opportunity to search yet deeper. But grace and his sense of identity are not actually in the waves, or the water, not in his work, not in his romantic relationships, not in the experiences he had of traveling all over the world, not in the yoga meditation or retreats. At least not in any of these things exclusively or eternally. He finds himself and uncovers grace in daily life.

The holy in the ordinary, grace in the mundane, self where you are.

After a rather shocking experience, he writes, “…had given me a gift. He’d made me recall briefly that nothing beats spring pasta on a Tuesday with your girlfriend, the sensation of breath in your lungs, a walk on the dunes after dinner, the full moon sinking behind the city.”

I finished the book and wanted to do two things: run to the ocean and dip my fingers in, to taste the salty water that so perfectly accompanies the book, and to be more faithful in practicing meditation. A book that calls the reader to experience nature with joy and to sit quietly, exploring the soul, is a good book. Even if you miss some of the the surfing nuances or don’t follow the same specific faith ideas, there are depths of beauty and honesty to enjoy in All Our Waves Are Water.

And more of Jaimal Yogis’s work here

A Christmas Story about a Surprising Baby Named God (not that one)

Quick link: A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God

 

This is a story close to my heart because it is about my first friend here, someone who was and remains exceedingly precious to me and my whole family. Someone who made me believe that this place, so different from Minnesota, could become home. Someone, without whom, I sincerely doubt we could have stayed so long.

When I needed someone to love my kids, she did. When I needed someone to make me laugh, she could. When I wanted to understand a cultural thing, she untangled it for me. When I need someone to hear my anger or my sorrow, she welcomed it.

This is a story of two women, coming from such different places, with such different faiths and such different ways of living, and finding each other, finding ourselves, together. It is about becoming mothers and about digging into our souls and finding beauty there.

When God and his mother were released from the maternity ward they came directly to my house to use the air conditioner. It was early May and the summer heat that melted lollipops and caused car tires to burst enveloped Djibouti like a wet blanket. Power outages could exceed ten hours a day. Temperatures hadn’t peaked yet, 120 degrees would come in August, but the spring humidity without functioning fans during power outages turned everyone into hapless puddles. I prepared a mattress for Amaal* and her newborn and prayed the electricity would stay on so she could use the air conditioner and rest, recover.

In 2004 when my family arrived in Djibouti, I needed help minimizing the constant layer of dust; Amaal needed a job. I needed a friend and Amaal, with her quick laugh and cultural insights became my lifeline. My husband worked at the University of Djibouti and was gone most mornings and afternoons, plus some evenings. We had 4-year-old twins and without Amaal I might have packed our bags and returned to Minnesota out of loneliness and culture shock.

I hired Amaal before she had any children. She wasn’t married yet and her phone often rang while she worked, boys calling to see what she was doing on Thursday evening. To see if she wanted to go for a walk down the streets without street lights where young people could clandestinely hold hands or drink beer from glass Coca-Cola bottles. She rarely said yes until Abdi Fatah* started calling. He didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t pressure her into more physical contact than she was comfortable with in this Muslim country. She felt respected. She said yes.

Click here to read the rest of A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God

Parenting and Risk, Outside the Camp

Quick link: I’m Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger

This is an article published by Christianity Today Women. (I hope fathers as well as mothers read it, or are thinking about these topics as they parent!) The piece was commissioned in response to a recent post John Piper wrote about bringing kids abroad, to live in risky or dangerous places.

His piece focused on spiritual risks. I’ve written a lot about fear and danger, mostly in terms of physical aspects. I believe, as I wrote in the Proper Weight of Fear, that safety is an illusion, it can even be crafted into an idol. No matter where we live, our kids are never guaranteed any level of safety. What are we going to do with that sobering reality? My piece responds to Piper’s, with a personal take.

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I did the riskiest thing we could imagine and took a job in the Horn of Africa. People often responded by asking, “Are you bringing the kids?” We had two-year-old twins at the time.

…Yes, we were bringing the kids.

It still amazes me that people ask this question. But I heard from a friend who arrived in Africa about a year ago, she too, had been asked this. And several others have commented that people ask the same question.

Yes! We’re bringing our kids. And we don’t believe we are destroying them.

As I drafted this essay, I asked my kids if they thought they lived a dangerous or uncomfortable life. One responded, “I think its pretty comfortable. But from the outside, someone might not think that.”

One thing about risk and danger and pushing beyond our comfort zones, is that it is, partly, a matter of perspective. I look back at the US lately, and I feel a tingle of fear! I’m starting to understand my African friends who ask, “Aren’t you afraid to visit the United States?” and who assume I would have no fear about living where we do. Clearly, some places are more dangerous, physically, than others. I have never been to Mogadishu. Also, we do face unique risks regarding disease and healthcare. I am not ignoring those scary realities. But, the conversation about fear and risk is more than physical danger and more than simply thinking everywhere outside the US is less safe.

Anyway, head over to CT, and read the piece, about going outside the camp.

I’m Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger

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Strong in the Broken: In This Tent We Groan

Today’s Strong in the Broken post moves from Tolkein to Lewis, from being a missionary kid to homosexuality to suicide. This essay is brave and it is one man’s story, told with complexity and honesty. It is published without a name, if you wish to contact the author, either please leave a comment or email me and I will put you in touch.

Disclaimer: I understand that this is a sensitive topic, and I cannot claim to have all, or really any of the answers. My hope is to tell my story in an honest way, not as a prescription for anyone going through similar struggles. I do not want to cause dissent or arguments over this issue. This is an uncomfortable topic to be sure, but comfort is no good reason for silence. This topic needs to be talked about until the suicide rate declines among this demographic. It needs to be talked about until this demographic falls in love with Jesus.

Falling in love is a terrible thing. Especially when you are the son of missionaries, and the person you fall in love with is another boy.

I never really had a concept of homosexuality growing up on the mission field. And maybe it wasn’t necessary. I was busy roaming the city streets, climbing on fortress walls, learning languages, running away from security guards. But even at the MK(missionary kid) conferences I think I felt a bit out of place, as if there was something different between me and my peers. I didn’t quite fit in even among my fellow TCKs (third culture kids). I couldn’t put my finger on it then. I just tried to love Jesus and obey him.

The subconscious prayer I tearfully prayed throughout high school and into college was, “God, fix me!”, because even though I didn’t know what needed fixing, I was aware of something broken within me. I noticed other guys instead of girls, but I thought it would pass, that it was nothing, that I was just sinful, that if I prayed hard enough, obeyed God enough, studied the Bible enough, I would become the right person. Somewhere in my head I was searching for a magical concoction that would fix me. I dove into theology and philosophy, trying to be the best Christian I could. I ceased to see God as my loving Father who longs to embrace me, and saw him as a genie with the power to grant my wish that I thought would please him, if only I would follow certain steps. I did all of this for at least seven years without the slightest idea that I was gay.

During my junior year at university, my inner world of acting perfect and believing all the right things finally collapsed on itself from sheer burnout and I admitted to myself that I was gay. They don’t prepare you for being this in the transition seminars. No TCK talk could have prepared me for this sort of identity crisis. This sort of world-shattering reality. Because just as I was trying to get accustomed to being in America, and thoroughly enjoying aspects of this culture, I admitted that I was not who I always told myself I was.

Depression pounded against my skull as my heart beat to the rhythm of my pleas, “God, let me be straight!” Shame told me to isolate myself, and my mind went into shock. I didn’t know how to find my Comforter in the Scriptures, because I had spent years treating it as a how-to manual. So I stopped reading this how-to manual that spoke nothing but condemnation into my predicament. I tried to shut my emotions down to give myself time to think, to pray. But then my eyes would catch that guy in the halls and I would break down.

Terror drove me away from my family, friends, people, and God. I was alone with myself and hated myself. My vending machine of a god was not accepting any currency I had to offer, and I became hopeless. My thoughts vacillated between believing I was an accident and that God could not possibly have meant to create someone like me, and blaming God for doing this to me. My God had failed me, or I had failed God. It didn’t really matter, did it? I hated God and wanted to die.

On my darkest nights my feet took me to the train tracks near campus and there I would stand, waiting for a train to come and take my life away. Exhaustion drove me back to my apartment with a fresh anger against a god I was convinced hated me. “Why can’t you let me die?!”

How can I blame God for this mess? I have been told that He is all-good and loving. I must therefore do what comes most naturally to me and imagine myself to be the leviathan beneath the surface of my heart, writhing my scaly body beneath the waves, hunting frigates. It does something to a man when he believes himself to be a monster. I debated whether my heart was more like Hyde or Frankenstein, because in public I could pull off a fair impression of Jekyll, but alone in my room, Hyde was the unwelcome companion who tried to convince me that Frankenstein was a better monster than I because he embraced his monstrosity and accepted it as who he was and called that identity good instead of hiding behind the false form of a doctor.

And yet, if I had to be a monster, at least I might try to be a useful one. If I were a dragon, at least I could feign an impression of Eustace and help to build a mast instead of razing a dwarven city to the ground in order to become king under the mountain. Of course I would be alone, unable to make the voyage to the edge of the world, but at least I might do a little bit of good instead of wreaking destruction before the eremitic storm clouds reigned over my island.

But the truth has a way of shining a light into the darkness. The first time I was honest about this struggle, my body physically revolted, and my throat tightened as I choked on the words. But a weight was gone. In being vulnerable with people I trusted, I allowed them the opportunity to love the unlovable parts of me, and to see light in a place where I could see only darkness; to see hope where all I comprehended was despair. In that moment, a thought flickered in my mind of a God who might be bigger than my small darkness allowed Him to be. I saw a human reflection of Divine love. No expectations. No if…then statements. No “at least…”. Just “I love you.”

A few months later, J. R. R. Tolkien convinced me to begin reading the Bible again by his words, “…I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy story; the greatest. Man the storyteller would have to be redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story.” (Letter to Michael Tolkien).

I prayed that God would let me perceive the Bible as a fairy story, which is probably the strangest and best thing I have ever prayed. I lived and breathed the second and third chapters of Genesis for an entire month. I hadn’t planned to stay that long in the Garden, but the magic and beauty of the love of God kept me anchored there, beginning to break the spell which had bound me for most of my life. Where before I had seen a vindictive God who is bound by natural laws, I now began to see a God whose every action was done out of a deep and passionate love for Adam and Eve. This God seemed foreign to me, and I dared to hope that His love extended to this scared son of Adam. I began to faintly hear the call of a God in pursuit of me “Where are you?” and I was tired of hiding my shame from him.

I hate that what I fight against every day is becoming normalized and accepted (at least in America), for now I have to fight myself internally and the world externally, both vying for my acceptance as they tell me that they are advocating for my happiness. Sometimes they tell me that God would want me to live into this identity, that He made me good and wants my happiness. There are days when the fighting is exhausting, the desire seems inexorable, and I wish I could allow myself to accept it, grasp for it, lean into it. If I am honest, there are days when I want to embrace a lifestyle in which I could love a man and my God with a clear conscience, convinced that I am obeying God. But then I ask myself: Is my God the sort of God who would ask us to surrender all aspects of ourselves to Him? To say ‘no’ to our most deeply felt desires and longings in order to say ‘yes’ to Him?

C. S. Lewis in “Perelandra” makes a profound statement. In the book, the law is referring to one regarding the Fixed Islands, but it is fitting in describing the Biblical prohibitions against acting on homosexuality, “I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not only because they are His will. Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?” There are many times when I don’t understand why this particular law was prohibited by God. I understand that homosexuality does not accurately reflect His love for his Church–that is mirrored in the marriage of a man and woman. I can see that as beautiful, but I often wonder where that leaves me in the context of the corporate Church.

The brokenness I am walking through is twofold: a broken sexuality and a broken perception of God. But as Tolkien said “The hands of the King are the hands of a healer.” (Ioreth, “The Return of the King”) My thoughts and feelings are painful. Some days I just want the strong hug of another man, emotional intimacy and trust, knowing that my imagination is capable of taking me further, and so I fight to stop there, and long for honest touch and true speech. Other days, the old dream of being a father surfaces, and I think of the names for my offspring that my desires steel from me. I romanticize the closeness of a Godly marriage. It hurts, and so I sit alone in my room and weep and pray to God. Not to be made straight, but to be with him.

The Psalms are a magnanimous comfort on the nights that feel especially long and cold and dark. I don’t understand why I have these desires. I don’t understand why God loves me. But maybe that is alright, as I trust that he loves me in bigger, better, and brighter ways than the darkness inside of me can fathom. And I would rather the darkness not be able to comprehend the light than for the light to stop it’s shining. I want to be okay with pressing into the Love of Christ that a part of me does not find comfortable and cannot understand as good and true. I want with my whole heart to leap into His Love, so that maybe His love could brighten the darkness within me.

The truth is that there are no easy answers; my story is one of tension and living in the margins. But I fight to hope in a God who walks with us through this dark and broken valley. And sometimes that fighting looks more like losing, more like retreating. Fighting what Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings calls “the long defeat.” Paul has a poignant way of describing the way that I see my experiences in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be found unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up in life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 1:1-7)

The author carries an American passport and was raised on British fairy tales while receiving a post-Communist education in the former Byzantine Empire. Some of his favorite pastimes include climbing trees and castle ruins, hiking in the Rocky Mountains, and sipping chai with a good book. His Eastern heart currently explores and seeks God in the Western United States.

Redefining Success for the Faith-Based Expatriate

Quick link: You Are Not a Failure

Over at A Life Overseas today, writing about something that’s been bugging me a bit lately.

I’ve read lots of blog posts and essays about failure lately, about people who grew up wanting to change the world and end up discouraged. Jonathan Trotter wrote about this a year and a half ago. Sarita Hartz wrote about it just last week. Abby Alleman wrote about it in February. I guess its my turn.

To people who made youthful commitments they didn’t follow through on, to people who moved back ‘home’ earlier than planned, to people who don’t see what they dreamed of seeing, I want to say: You’re not a failure. And, you didn’t even fail.

You were on a date and you’d been trained to think this was a marriage. You got on a train and mistakenly believed you could never, ever get off. You’re lost in a new city and you think U-turns are not an option here. You fell in love and like most first loves, you fell out of it again. Or, it was in truth just a crush. Thankfully no one expects us or pressures us to marry our sixth grade ‘boyfriends’ and none of us feel guilty for abandoning them on the playground. But if, in our youthful naiveté and with the emotional high of a summer project, we make grand pronouncements of a lifetime commitment to service in the name of faith and turn our backs on that – we call it failure.

No one should be berated, by themselves or anyone else, for getting lost and making a U-turn. Even with Siri and GPS, we are not infallible. And when it comes to lifelong decisions, even with the Bible and the Holy Spirit, we’re allowed to change direction as we grow and evolve.

Click here to read the rest of You Are Not a Failure