embracing the unexpected. Not.

“Word to the wise: You just never know when the Universe is gonna goose ya.”

For this post, I scanned the internet for an appropriate quote on the unexpected. I found inspirational quotes on how beautiful it can be to embrace the unexpected, how our paths are defined by doing so, and how inner peace is attained by accepting it. 

So not where I am at right now. Then I found the one above, and it’s just about right on the head. Found on a yoga site, no less. I consider that pretty ironic. 

To make the story short and not become one of those old ladies (I am not old) who traps you for 2 hours lamenting and listing her ills, let me sum it up. For the past month, as soon as I start getting up from some physical ailment, another one shoves me down. Pretty much literally, as in, my green chair is permanently imprinted with my backside. We have had a lovely spring, but I have not seen it. And the latest, a sprained ankle, has just made me bereft of any of that “look on the bright side” spirit. Sometimes, life just gooses ya, and it stinks.

We often look at lousy circumstances and ask God, “OK, what are you teaching me here? What am I supposed to learn?” Or sometimes, when it’s been a bit much, “Don’t you think I’m done learning this *#%@& lesson by now???” (No, of course I don’t do that. But some people do.) 

One surprising thing I’ve learned is that sometimes, it’s not all about me. Maybe, someone else is supposed to learn a lesson through what’s going on in my life, and I’m just supposed to sit still and let it happen. Or at least, not get in the way. 

Maybe that sounds like I think I’m some kind of amazingly spiritual role model that God uses as his shining example. Um, not . . . exactly. Or perhaps it just sounds like I’m a human guinea pig for God’s cosmic experiments. First, I don’t believe God messes with people like that, and second, if he wanted to, he’s God, so I guess I’m OK with that. He can do what he wants with things that belong to him.

I told my family, for instance, that maybe they’re supposed to be learning how to manage to get through a day without Mom/Wife running the ship. You know, about the fifth time you’re asked “What’s for dinner?” or “Where is my piece of paper I left right there?” you’re highly likely to explode with something like, “Yes, I’m faking it. At night when you’re all asleep, I get out of this chair and rearrange the house with all your stuff! I haven’t stood up in a week, how am I supposed to know what’s for dinner???” (No, of course I don’t do that. But, again, some people do.) 

Maybe they’re supposed to learn to develop a “sight” outside their own little worlds. Seeing places they’re needed and ways they should help the world function. Realizing those “other” needs might break into their own agendas. Opening eyes to things that are not in the plan. Maybe starting with the dishes . . . 

I say it half-facetiously, since when asked they are pretty good at helping out, but I’m also quite serious. Most of us are so encased in our personal agendas we simply don’t look around to see where we could be stretching ourselves. And I have learned that this is true of myself, as well. 

It’s not all about me. When bad things happen to me, it’s still not. Saying, “God, what are you going to teach me?” is still rather self-centered. It’s still about what I can get out of a lousy situation. What can someone else get? A different perspective, I think.

still our kids

I last walked the Great Wall of China ten years ago. Almost, anyway. It will be ten year in October. I know the date, because I turned forty in the air above the International Date Line, and I have maintained ever since that it never really happened, since the day disappeared.

Ten years is a long time chronologically. But emotionally, it can be a heartbeat, and I feel like I could go back tomorrow and the faces we met at the orphanage would still be there, still smiling, still making me smile. Of course, they are not. They are teenagers now, or even adults, and they have new stories and new dreams. For ten years, our family has kept up with those dreams, because for two weeks we were part of their lives, and now they will always be “our kids.”

Our own kids were 6, 10, and 11 when we packed them up to fly halfway around the globe and learn how to eat, sleep, play, and (the worst, in their opinion) use the bathroom in China. Of course, that wasn’t the main thing we wanted then to learn.

We live in a suburb. In one of the richest counties in America. We don’t fit in, really, but that’s beside the point. Culturally, our kids absorb daily the idea that things are gods, you are your successes, and anything (or anyone) that isn’t convenient is disposable. That osmosis process is deadly to their ability to be the humans God intended them to be. So, we thought radically and decided a dose of another culture was in order.

We also rebelled against the typical church culture that told kids their main purpose was to be entertained and educated (in no particular order) until they grew up enough to be of use in the church. Where did that crazy idea come from? Definitely not from Jesus. Kids have gifts, too, and we wanted ours to know they didn’t have to be sidelined at any age.

I can’t begin to chronicle here all the things we experienced that woke us up and rattled our complacent thinking. I still, ten years later, don’t know all the echoes that will result.

In fact, it took a book to chronicle it, and I’m very excited it’s finally done. No, the entire book is not about us (how boring would that be?). It’s about how other families can, and should, have this kind of experience for themselves, whether in China or Chattanooga. And–insert big confetti party here–it’s now available on Amazon! In paperback at the moment, though I hope to have the ebook version available this week.

So many parents look at me when I talk about this this and say, “Wow–I could never do that!” To which I want to reply, “Why in the world not?” So, for those who find the entire concept scary and overwhelming, I wrote the book. I thought it was that important to let other parents know it’s not scary and overwhelming. OK, it is, but in a good way.

Among the things addressed: how to find the right place, pack, apply for paperwork, prepare your kids emotionally and spiritually, follow up afterward, and a whole lot of other stuff. I am very excited, and when I’m excited, well, I want to let my friends know. So, now you do. And if there is a family, church, organization, etc. you think would also be excited, can you pass on the link? Thank you–you are fabulous. http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Forget-Pack-Kids-Missions/dp/0615581188/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1331567617&sr=8-1

So far in our 7 experiment (http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2011/12/26/an-experimental-mutiny-against-excess), we’re about 3/4 for 2. Or something like that. Month one, January, we were supposed to give away 7 things per person in our family. We got about 2/3 of the way there before we ran out of time. But we continue, so at least that’s not a fail. I’d say we got a B for January.

February–eating only 7 foods. D. For me anyway. Maybe a D+ for grace. I tried, really. And the funny thing was, my errors were not so much ones of willpower as simple forgetfulness. I’d be making a recipe, and it said to toss in carrots and mushrooms, so, I did. Or I’d see a plate of brownies at church, and I’d just put one in my mouth. Sometime around the second chew I’d realize. I’m not supposed to be eating this. And we all know it’s kind of rude to spit out brownie mid-chew in the middle of church. Especially if said brownie maker is nearby.

When our book group read The Happiness Project last year, the author had a chapter on Mindfulness and its link to happiness. I knew before reading it that would be the problem chapter for me. I am so not mindful. If I ever had to identify for police what my child was wearing this morning, I couldn’t even verify that she was wearing anything at all, let alone color and style. I don’t pay attention. This is a fatal flaw for a writer and, I am guessing, not too great as a human being.

Thus, the barely passing grade in eating the right foods. What does it teach me? That, yes, paying attention matters. Being present in the moment matters. Telling my daughter she looks beautiful in the morning because I noticed matters. Looking carefully at that food I’m about to eat, or that person I’m about to forget the name of, or that sentence I’m about to let slip that I shouldn’t matters.

I will always struggle with this. It’s not in my makeup to look outward and notice things. But I’ll keep trying.

Now March. That’s going to be an A. Wearing only 7 articles of clothing. All month. And no, since I know it’s your first question, underwear do not count. You know why I know I can do this? Because I’m already realizing the great month it’s going to be for laundry. That, I noticed right away.