What toilet paper art is teaching me about life and creativity

by Jonathan

Every evening, my little girls create.

Every evening, my little girls take the cardboard innards of toilet paper rolls and they create beauty. In the bathroom.

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Every evening they create, and every morning I find the dried up pieces piled up on the floor.

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They don’t seem to notice the great impracticalities of their efforts. They don’t seem to care that no one will see their work or admire their skills. They just do it for the joy. They do it because they like it.

And they remind me that it’s possible to make even a bathroom in Cambodia a place of art. It’s possible to see beyond the leaky sink, the bare light bulb, the plastic door, the smelly drains, the cracked tile, the rusty doorknobs, and see beauty.

I want to be like that. I want to create for the joy of it. I want to write and speak from the fire and joy inside, not for the acclimation or accolades from the outside, and regardless of whether or not the space is perfectly designed for creating.

I want to speak laughter and joy into the mundane.

And when the internet gets a bit tense and people get a bit fired up, I want to remind people that “toilet paper art on plastic door” is a thing.

And whether anyone notices, and whether my work ends up in a pile on the bathroom floor tomorrow morning, I will still create.

Will you?

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*In our house in Cambodia, the bathrooms consist of one small room made entirely of tile. The toilet, sink, and shower occupy pretty much the same space, and the door’s made of plastic.

Our first book!

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We’ve compiled over 50 of our short essays into a new book. The book covers topics like transition, TCKs, grief and loss, conflict, marriage on the field, and more. The Kindle version is $1.99 and is available here.

Here’s what Elizabeth has to say about the print edition:

What I like about the paper copy is that it’s in 8 1/2 X 11 inch format, so it has lots of white space and (ahem) margin to make your own notes, to sort of journal through it, as it were. A lot of our posts really are like journal entries of what God is taking us through, so having a hard copy allows you to journal through those issues on your own, too. Hopefully that’s a blessing to someone!

We are ordering a bunch to have with us here in Phnom Penh, so if you’re local and you’d like a hard copy, check back with us in a couple of weeks. Thanks so much for all your support along the way.

all for ONE,
Jonathan T.

 

Let’s Talk About Broken Things

by Elizabeth

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To quote the acclaimed African author Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart here.

Last month it was our internet. It was out for four days. The company finally answered our request for help and came and fixed the line outside our house. A few days later the internet stopped again, this time a broken modem — our second in this country. We bought a third.

Our electric piano broke shortly after returning from America. So did our DVD player. The piano isn’t fixed yet, but after a few weeks we found a DVD player that was relatively cheap. The label on the back says it plays all regions, same as our old one. It doesn’t. We can no longer play several beloved movies from America.

The drains are constantly overflowing. The toaster stopped working two years in, and we just never replaced it.

I’m on my fourth blender here. I had the same blender in America for 12 years. I used it for crushing ice and making frozen fruit smoothies, and it never broke. I’ve only ever used my Cambodian blenders to make hummus, but I don’t even dare to do that very much anymore. My current blender starts overheating after about 15 seconds of use.

Our fans routinely break, and currently one of the bathroom sinks is leaking. Badly. The kitchen sink was leaking badly too, but it took priority.

Last hot season the air conditioner in our bedroom broke. We had it “fixed” several times but still had to camp out in the guest bedroom most of the season.

The fluorescent light bulbs burn out, but it’s not just the light bulb that needs replacing: often it’s the entire fixture.

My laptop is on its third battery since we moved to a 230 voltage area. Third charger too. And it’s currently at the shop because it stopped charging last week. Again. The electricity here burns out appliances I guess.

I tried using our old computer to do emails, but it took 15 minutes to boot up and maybe kinda sorta shut down each time I tried to open an internet browser. Leading to another 15 minutes to reboot. . . a couple more times. I finally got that sorted out enough to open my blogging platform, as you now see.

Then today, the refrigerator/freezer went and broke on us. When we realized this — and only one day after I restocked the fridge with fresh dairy products — I leaned my head against the fridge and sighed.

Something is always broken here — usually, many things at once. And I haven’t even started in on all our van and moto problems. Like the hot season the van’s air conditioning broke. Or the rainy season we drove through standing water to get to church, but by the next week the brake rotors had rusted closed, paralyzing our poor van.

Or the radiator that leaked for over three years without a single mechanic being able to isolate the problem. Or the moto that still dies immediately after being started if it’s been, say, an hour since we last started it.

I don’t usually talk about this stuff, and I don’t say this to complain either, although it might be interpreted that way. I say this to explain why we’re sometimes so tired and why it sometimes takes us so long to fix one simple thing.

Each of these things takes time and energy in another language, culture, and infrastructure. The daily rhythm of ministry abroad is already tiring enough. Adding even one more thing to the mix is sometimes enough to topple us.

So things don’t get fixed right away. Sometimes that’s because we wait, and sometimes that’s because we have to wait on others. We’ve had a glut of broken things lately, and to be honest I’m kind of tired of it.

So here’s to the cooler that can hold our dairy products till tomorrow. Here’s to the electrician who might come fix the fridge tomorrow. Here’s to the knob in the bathroom that shuts off all the water till we can fix that faucet. And here’s to the momma who just might regain her sense of humor with Mad Libs and a movie night with her kids.

That Lane is Your Lane, This Lane is My Lane

To the tune of This Land is My Land, sort of.

Lyrics:
That lane is your lane
This lane is my lane
Does it really matter
You have the right of way

You have a big car
I’m so much less than
You flashed your lights first
Please go ahead

You drive a Lexus
I drive a Honda
You have rank
So dasvedanya

You’re more important
Jesus still loves you
So I’ll just move now
And let you through

That lane is your lane
This lane is my lane
Does it really matter
I might just go insane

You have a big car
I need my therapist
You flashed your lights first
I feel so miffed

You drive a Lexus
I drive a Honda
You have rank
So dasvedanya

You’re more important
Jesus still loves you
So I’ll just move now
And let you through

A Far Away Funeral — Memories of My Grandma

This past weekend my extended family celebrated my Grandma’s life and mourned her death. I couldn’t be there in person, so I sent my love through this letter, and my mom read it at the funeral. I’m sharing it now for any of my family who wants to read it. I love you all and am missing you desperately at this time. ~Elizabeth

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I remember polka music. I remember dancing. I remember ancient family photos on the staircase, and current family photos on the book case. How I would stare at those pictures, as though I could absorb the family history by osmosis. I remember seeing pictures of Grandma as a young woman and thinking she had the most beautiful face I had ever seen. She was prettier than the prettiest model in my eyes (and probably in Grandpa’s eyes too!).

I remember kolaches and rolickies and hoska. How I would gorge myself on the delicious Bohemian dough that Grandma always baked to perfection. I remember her Duck and Dumpling. How I adored those potato dumplings. And I remember the apples — apples every year, and oh how I balked at eating their skins.

I remember their house being such a hot place on Christmas Eve, stuffed as it was with all those people, the kitchen heated to the boiling point with noodle soup. (The stairs to the basement, however, were still cold.) I remember waiting, just waiting, to graduate from kid tables in the dining room to adult tables in the kitchen. And I remember how long the dishes took after dinner, with all the aunts washing and drying and talking together.

The Musels were this big, loud, happy Catholic family, and I loved it. Grandma and Grandpa’s home felt like my home too, while my parents and sisters and I wove our way around the States and around the world. At Grandma’s, cousins were like brothers and sisters, and being at her house meant playmates never being far away. I remember loving her front porch, the most amazing porch in the world. It was covered and large enough to play house on, large enough to play Red Light Green Light from. And it was large enough to host scads of stair step cousin photographs.

I remember Grandma and Grandpa’s 45th wedding anniversary. I remember the hall and the candles and that beautiful surprise slide show and the music that accompanied it. To this day I can’t hear “What a Wonderful World” without thinking of Grandma and Grandpa. And it was always Grandma and Grandpa together in my mind, not separated as they’ve been these last 15 years. How these 15 years must have hurt. How she must have ached.

It’s been hard to be away these last 3 ½ years. I’ve missed weddings and holidays. I’ve watched photographs of the family appear on Facebook. I’ve rejoiced that I’m part of a family who still loves each other enough to get together. I’ve also mourned the loss of nearness and togetherness for myself. When I went away, I didn’t know if I would see Grandma again. I knew she was getting older and that my last goodbye to her might be my very last. But still, I hoped it wouldn’t be; I hoped to see her again.

None of us knew this past 4th of July would be Grandma’s last time to gather her family around her and love them. She looked good. She looked happy and healthy and as beautiful as ever. Those pictures make it hard to accept that this really happened, that I really have to say goodbye. I wish I didn’t have to say goodbye from far away. I wish I could say goodbye in person. This goodbye won’t be forever; I know that. We will meet again. And I’m sure when we do, it’ll be over fresh poppy seed kolaches and the music of the Christmas Polka.

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Paradox and the Hope of Progress

by Elizabeth

The paths of subatomic particles in a bubble chamber.

The paths of subatomic particles in a bubble chamber. Photo source: CERN

A few months ago I came across the phrase “No paradox, no progress” in a science magazine. The quote was attributed to quantum physicist Niels Bohr and immediately grabbed my attention. (Bohr made breakthroughs in understanding the structure of atoms, among other things.) No paradox, no progress?? This statement is as true of quantum mechanics as it is of life.

The phrase really stuck with me and came to mind as I was writing my last installment in the Parsonage Heresies series at A Life Overseas. I didn’t have space in the article to contemplate this beautiful quote the way I wanted to. And at any rate, I couldn’t remember in which article I had found the words “no paradox, no progress,” so I let the idea go. Until now.

When I went searching for the quote in the Place Where All Lost Quotes Reside (also known as The Internet), I discovered that Bohr’s actual words were more akin to “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” I love the sentiment from this scientist: we need to give ourselves permission to embrace paradox.

Paradox, that discomfiting feeling we experience when opposites happen at once. Paradox is living in a place where it smells so bad and smells so good all at the same time. Paradox is feeling hope and despair in the same moment. Sometimes we struggle when we cannot reconcile our contradictory facts and feelings, or, in the arena of theology, reconcile seemingly contradictory Biblical passages.

We Western Christians are not very good at making peace with Paradox, are we? Yet without Paradox, our faith gets stuck. Without Paradox, we cling so tightly to our confusion and our contradictions that we can’t move forward in life.

I’ve found that it’s easier in the end — though definitely not in the beginning — to simply accept the paradox of two seemingly opposing truths than to attempt to force them into one truth and lose my faith. It’s better to accept both the good and bad in life and within myself rather than rationalizing any of it away.  After all, Niels Bohr is also quoted as having said “The opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth.”

Bohr’s kind of thinking has strengthened my love for God (He’s so much bigger than I could imagine!) and enriched my study of the Bible (I don’t have to understand it all!). It’s illuminated my past and enabled me to offer grace more fully to other people. I think the more liturgical among us call Bohr’s motto “Mystery.”

Mystery is holding two truths together lightly in our imperfect, human hands, and releasing the need to have one Perfect Answer. Mystery is the reason I’m troubled by extremist theology. Why is it so hard for us, in a trusting embrace of the Father, to hold two truths at the same time? Why can we not hold both that God is mercy, and that He is justice? Why can we not hold both that God is sovereign, and that we have free will (because He gave it to us)?

This Mystery I speak of, it consoles me.  I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t have to get it all right. I can still believe. Mystery: it’s such a comfort. And in the words of Laura Hackett Park below, what Mystery can give back to us is a Life Abundant.

 

Now love’s a choice I know it’s true

He never forced my heart to move

But therein lies the mystery

That He reached first in choosing me

He spoke my name the sweetest sound

And to this day I still resound

Now death has lost its hold on me

Now life springs up abundantly

Something No One Told Me Might Happen {Velvet Ashes}

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Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today, talking about how she unexpectedly found her gifts overseas:

About five years ago I said “yes” to the adventure of living overseas. I didn’t know all that might entail, but I knew I loved the God who had asked me to move, and I was determined to follow Him. I didn’t, however, know exactly what to expect.

I heard a little bit of what to expect at our pre-field training. There, someone warned me that stepping on a plane wouldn’t turn me into a different person, or magically make me a superhero Christian. No, I would be the same person as always, possessing the same old faults.

And that’s true — I didn’t turn into a different person. In fact, stepping off that plane and entering an unfamiliar culture had the additional effect of revealing my faults, of laying bare my sin problems and defects in character.

But something else happened, too. Something surprising and unexpected, something no one told me might happen: I discovered gifts I’d never had before. They were new and previously unknown gifts. But they were never meant for me – they were meant to be poured out for others. More importantly, they were meant to be poured out for Him.

You can read the rest of the post here.