holiday melancholia & choosing joy

Christmas hurts.

Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, there’s a steady influx of holiday-related posts; baby’s first Christmas, new traditions, old traditions, fancy meals and dresses, a time to reminisce, and families long apart – together again. I never knew something to make my heart feel such joy and sorrow at the same time.

It’s my second Christmas away from home, yet the ache I feel far surpasses last time.

My parents are moving to America.

This is the last Christmas in my childhood home – and I’m not there for it.

I’m losing something that I didn’t know I needed to say goodbye to.

It’s not that I’m sad about missing Christmas day, or even the Christmas season; it has and always will be about the people. Christmas is the one time of year I get to fly home to ‘my country’ and be with ‘my people’. People who have scolded me, watched me grow from a wee tot into who I am today, in complete support of me in any endeavor I pursue. The people who were my adoptive aunties, uncles, and grandparents; people who most influenced my life.They know what part I play in my family dynamics, they saw me through my awkward, embarrassing years, they know my talents and weaknesses, they care to know what I’m learning, and they constantly tell me how proud they are of me… they cherish me unconditionally.

I’m far from home this year, experiencing the holiday season in a different continent than I have before. It’s been so fun to see how a different culture does Christmas and get to spend this season with an adoptive family, but we’ve been so busy that it wasn’t until I checked a calendar this morning that I even realised today was Christmas Eve.

I found myself swallowing a lump in my throat I didn’t even know was there.

I’m grieving a season in my life I know to be ending very soon. Not a literal season, but a season of international terminals in order to go home on holiday; of sleeping in my own bed – not the guest bedroom in a strange house in a new state; of using different currencies on break; of being with the people I consider to be my family, who value me; to see my childhood friends – grown TCKs who are scattered all over and whom I’d never see any other time.

We don’t get a lot of say in the direction God takes our lives, but mine is going somewhere I hoped it wouldn’t… and damn it, it hurts.

Life. Goes. On.

I think God, in His divine Love, knew this would be a hard pill for me to swallow, so He orchestrated a way for me to go home one last time before the move. In October, I strongly felt that I needed to go home after I return from Asia; as my place to rest and figure out my life. I moved to the Philippines directly after graduating college and I haven’t had the mental capacity since then to plan out a blueprint of my next year. I found an affordable flight that would give me 6 weeks with my family before I’d move back to California. It was a month later that it became clear my family would be moving to Michigan in June, in order for my parents to take on a new role in ministry.

In other words, God had planned out for me to go home before we knew the move would happen. Are you kidding?? It’s humbling to know that unbeknownst to me, God loves me so much that He’d prepare in advance a way for me to get the closure I need.

That being said…


Knowing my Creator and recognizing His plan to be the best, I hereby choose to not wallow in self-pity over the upcoming changes in my life; but instead to face them head on with my eyes mostly open. I might scrunch my face a little, because I do that sometimes…but I will rely on my Saviour, taking it just one day at a time.

So for today, at least — I am choosing joy.


I Love Asia — But My Lungs Don’t

Last night was a rough night for my 6-year-old buddy and me. We were both up late croup coughing and sounding like seals. After getting the Asian equivalent to Vicks, ‘Megascent Oil’, slathered all over our feet, chests, and upper backs, we went to bed with high hopes that we’d be able to sleep through the rest of the night without coughing. He finally fell asleep, but I was kept awake trying to understand the phenomenon behind why after rubbing menthol on my feet did my cough go away and all I was left with was a minty sensation in my mouth. I can’t seem to grasp the concept.

Belinda and I joke about whether we’d prefer to have functioning lungs, or toned legs. As we jog in the early morning, huge trucks filled with produce and/or people drive by leaving behind black clouds of love for our lungs to enjoy as we run by. Breathing is bad in pretty much any urban area, but for whatever reason, specifically in Asia.

I was facetiming with a friend in California the other day, and we talked about the joys of the California DMV and getting our cars smogged. After living in Asia for so long, I really don’t mind all the hoops I had to go through in order to register my car in the state of California — at least I could breathe and run there.

What are some things you ‘put up with’ because you like the end result?

• Sore muscles because you know you’ll finally get that 6-pack if you keep pushing? Yeah, me neither…

• Working 12 hour shifts, because it feels so good when you stop?

• I wouldn’t know, but…giving birth, anyone?

What about things you enjoy doing, but suffer the consequences for later?

• Partying hard?

• Eating cheese and ice-cream, even though your lactose-intolerant body hates you for it?

I think as believers, it’s hard to view painful situations and circumstances as a beneficial thing, especially while you’re stuck in the thick of it. But when you’re finally able to take a step back and analyse the situation, it’s so much easier to see God’s goodness and how the results — whether it be a softened heart or just becoming more like Christ — make the ‘pain’ so worth enduring.

In the same way exercising and the pain that comes with it: shin splints, fatigued muscles, and cramping, (in time) bring about a ‘hot bod’, God materializes the ‘yuck’ in our own hearts because He loves us and wants us to better emulate His character. The process for both spiritual and physical is painful, there’s no denying that; let’s be honest, if it doesn’t hurt or make you break a sweat, you’re probably doing it wrong. I frequently question if it’s actually doing any good, but I think that’s why God designed it so others are the first to notice and will point out when they see growth.

So, for now, I’ll put up with dysfunctional lungs. It reminds me of how much God loves me and is willing to work through my rubbish with me.

Plus, I mean…Ryan Gosling:

I Don’t Feel Much Like Pooh Today

I’ve been an avid reader since I can remember. Every birthday and Christmas I received a book to add to my personal library. As I got older, my books became cash (assuming I would rather have money for clothes or makeup), but I would still only ever use the money on books.

I attended a college where I read even more than I did in high school; I didn’t think it possible. Anyone who has attended Eternity Bible College can relate to this. It was only over breaks that a (dedicated) EBC student had time to devour non-school books. Early on, I decided that once I graduated from college, I would fulfill this resolution:

Read 100 books in one calendar year.

I was determined to make 2013 ‘the year’, since I had no idea what 2014 would hold. This was a kind of foolish decision, having been enrolled in EBC full-time for 4 months of the year, but I decided to give it my best. I love a daunting challenge!

This week, I hit my 50 book milestone. Although impressive in and of itself, it does not bode well for finishing the other fifty in just 4 months. I use this website. It keeps track of your books, finds recommendations, and you can see what your friends are reading. Pretty fantastic.

Since I am half way done with my challenge, I decided I would share what I’ve gleaned from a book I’ve read, one that spoke specifically to my heart; Humility, by Andrew Murray:

“Let us ask whether we have learnt to regard a reproof, just or unjust; a reproach from friend or enemy; an injury, or trouble, or difficulty into which others bring us; as above all an opportunity of proving how Jesus is all to us, how our own pleasure or honour are nothing, and how humiliation is, in very truth, what we take pleasure in. It is indeed blessed, the deep happiness of Heaven, to be so free from self that whatever is said of us or done to us is lost and swallowed up in the thought that Jesus is all.”


2013 has been my my most difficult year by far.

I’ve shed more tears in the past 3 months than I think I have in all my life. The tragedies and bad news are merciless in tracking me down and finding me in this distant corner of the world. What I’ve learned through hardship is the importance of not losing sight of the hope which is in me. Buried temporarily, though the hope may be, in difficult circumstances, in grief, in brokenness — I know it will pass…eventually. Although the fog closes in around me and I so frequently feel as though I’m drowning, God gives me His strength even then.

The chore of waking up in the morning is so much easier having bathed myself in the truth that Jesus is all. Isn’t it nice to know that you don’t have to figure things out by yourself? This reality does not dissipate the grief; but it does remind us we are capable of experiencing joy in spite of seemingly overwhelming circumstances.


Bête Noire

I first heard this from the mouth of my French piano teacher. He was a very animated individual, always going off on spewing rages regarding young people murdering the rendition of classic pieces, or one of his other dramatic rants. (I always thought it should have referred to Bartók or Bach inventions – my personal bête noires).

Bête Noire — A person or thing that one particularly dislikes. The bane of one’s existence.

There’s just something about saying it in French – so sophisticated.

Discontentment is my bête noire.

It doesn’t seem to matter how much the good outweighs the bad in life. It’s too easy to live under the single grey cloud in the sky. Literally. It’s monsoon season here. It’s just that much easier to find a little grey cloud to camp out under for a while.

Have you read the book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”? The message of the book is that it doesn’t really matter where you live because a bad day is just a bad day; relocating is not going to solve any of your problems. After the outburst from 8-year-old Alexander about how terrible his day was, his mother responded with, “Some days are like that, even in Australia…”

Don’t we all struggle with discontentment in the present? We think, if I only could have that job, own that house, or if only I could live in _______. If only my spouse would change. If only I had a spouse. If. Only. We get stuck in a rut thinking if only circumstances would change – then my outlook on life would improve. Then I would be able to keep better control of my emotions. Then I would be a happier person…

It’s been one of those weeks.

Back home, in this week alone, there has been a birth, a person very close to me had a miscarriage, and by this weekend, I will have missed 2 very good friends’ weddings. And some time in the next few days/weeks, a new niece will be brought into the world as well! As much as I try to keep a good attitude about the life God has me lead, it is really hard sometimes. I know there are blessings to be had for sacrifices made in choosing to serve the Lord overseas, but it doesn’t make the sacrifices any smaller.

It’s not that I’m discontent living in Southeast Asia. Quite the contrary, in fact. I couldn’t be happier with who I spend my time with and what I spend my time doing. Isn’t it a part of human nature to always crave what you don’t (or can’t) have? When I’m here, my heart wants to be there. When I’m there, I miss being here… I can’t stand the inner bickering!

I don’t consider my discontentment or sadness worthy to compare with the hardships (real) missionaries and martyrs endure daily. For generations, people have suffered far worse; missing funerals and weddings is at the bottom of the ‘totem pole’ of hardships. But that really is the best place to begin adjusting my attitude, rather than later in life when I’ve become set in my ways.

I feel inclined to add that somewhere along the way I’ve learned it is okay to be sad when life deals hard blows. Just because I’ve chosen this life, does not mean I love everything that comes with the job description. I don’t know if this is an exclusive Hannah-ism, or if it’s common among others, but I’m so quick to feel guilty about feeling sad. However, wallowing in your sorrow is another thing. That being said…

I can not choose what comes my way, regrettably… but I am in charge of my response to it! I would love nothing better than for my life to juxtapose a flower blooming on a rocky precipice, against all odds. Alone I would be incapable of such a feat — the conditions would be my destruction; but to bloom radiantly, despite the “weather”, would be to the glory of God.