Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cross-Cultural Lessons: Adoration

Anyone who has traveled or lived cross-culturally (whether in their home country or abroad) should be able to share more about lessons learned than lessons taught. If I can't do that, something is wrong. This Sunday, I was able to reflect on what cross-cultural living has taught me about adoration.
As with most things, the journey to the obvious was long and twisty.
A synopsis of the beginning of the story is that I am terrible at adoration in prayer in worship. My mind wanders, I lose interest, and I even begin to feel it is pointless. The sinful train of thought goes something like, "God knows He's great, I know He's great, what are we talking about here?" Even as a young girl, armed with the acrostic ACTS, I got so stuck on the A and wanted to skip to Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Adoration seems so redundant, and so obvious.
There is quite clearly sin in this attitude. Also, though, there is the natural way my brain works - to tease the nuance out of something, to want to wrestle with the complicated, to exercise curiosity and wondering, to discover new things rather than dwell on the familiar.
So, in my personal prayer, adoration is rushed - the prayer equivalent of a head nod instead of a bear hug. In corporate prayer, while someone else is adoring, I'm daydreaming or (at my worst) judging.
You all know that my first foray into crossing culture in a significant way was marrying Ben. Guys, I had some ugly missteps in navigating this as a young adult - the epitome of a selfish, arrogant American, believing that my husband's culture was "behind," as was their theology. My parents-in-law can PRAY. They can and do pray continually, for everything and everyone. And, they worship. They spend solid minutes reciting to God what is great about him. They do it with tears and repetition, and do not seem to tire of restatement. They never believe that they've overstated Truth.
And, I'll be honest. That tends to drive me crazy. I'm an antsy, selfish toddler, wanting to go to the next step, and then to amen, and then to out-the-door.
A few months ago, I began reading a book with friends. Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty.  She explores the idea of adoration as an impetus to spiritual growth and depth. And she developed a pretty devotional to help. I tried. She warned it would feel awkward, and boy did it. It was the same old problem. My impatience with taking the time to tell God what isn't new to either of us.
On Sunday, in church, I listened to the African pastor pray. And I was struck with how he sounded just like Ben's dad - how they have in common the beautiful ability to sit in adoration. How it's not an Indian thing or an African thing, but it might just be a non-American thing. If I put aside my American values of independence and argument, might I find more freedom in prayer?
Maybe it has cultural roots, maybe it doesn't; either way, I'm hoping to incorporate something new into my faith: stating the obvious, and restating it enough that it doesn't seem obvious anymore.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy Birthday to (and from) Ben

It's Ben's birthday today. You all know I love him. As part of his own birthday celebration, he sent this email to his parents this morning. I think it's beautiful and I hope he doesn't mind that I'm going to share it. The reason I'm sharing it is because I, too, have benefitted every day from the choices his parents have made in having and raising him. Just the fact that they moved to America in the 1970s, before Ben or I were born, changed both of our lives. That they raised him in a way that encouraged him to know and love many different kinds of people made our marriage possible. That Ben's mom saves money and plans ahead and Ben's dad does the dishes and prays always are qualities that I see in him every day. 

It's Ben's birthday today. There are three of us who probably celebrate that more than anyone else in the world. The ones who gave him life, and the one who shares his life. I love you, Mom & Dad Thomas!

Hi mom and dad,
As I remember my birthday today, and we celebrate with friends, I just wanted to say thanks.
Thanks for the ways you have raised me and loved me throughout the course of my life.  You encouraged me from a young age to be who God made me to be.  It first started with playing sports.  When no one else played sports you saw that I loved it and you found a way for me to play.  My first team was the Tornadoes.  From soccer to travel soccer to baseball to roller hockey and eventually you let me play the sport I loved the most, football.  Thank you.
From sports to being able to spend time with friends when no other Malayalee parents would. You trusted me and allowed me to be make friends with non Malayalees and spend time with them.
From spending time with friends to going away to college to play football.  To a college no one heard of, where no one we knew was.  You knew Hobart was the place for me after the first visit.
From Hobart to sending me to Urbana, to encouraging me to go to seminary when I sensed God calling me to ministry.  From there to meeting Susie and then marrying her.  From marrying her to be a missionary.  From being a missionary to living in ohio and then India.  From India to adopting Charlie. From adopting Charlie to being the global director.  From the global director to taking care of Susie, you helped me in every way.  From Susie's cancer to Annie being born. From Annie to my doctoral program.  From my doctoral program to Brasil and then to Rwanda.
Through all of this you have raised me to trust God, to be comfortable with who God made me, and to love others.  Without you raising me to trust God, I could not do all the lord has allowed us to do.
As I celebrate today in kigali, Rwanda, please know I can never thank you enough for how you raised me.  I am forever grateful.
I tell people in kigali all the time, I am the son of Indian immigrants who trusted God with everything.
I wish I could celebrate with you today.  I look forward to the day I can celebrate my birthday with you.
Please know that I think of you with great thanksgiving everyday, but especially today.   Every happy birthday wish to me is a reflection of both of you and how you raised me.
Happy birthday, mom and dad.  I love you.