Saturday, July 31, 2010

Not Quite What We Chose

Erik has been periodically checking on the status of our apartment, which I'm sure involves headache inducing conversations in Chinese with the renovation boss (whom we affectionately call "Mr. Zhuang Xiu Pants" - zhuang xiu meaning "renovation") about the details of everything.

After his last visit, he came home with that "prepare your heart" tone as he told me that the kitchen tile has been installed, and it's not what we ordered. I suppose in the U.S. this doesn't happen, or if it does, you'd immediately demand a refund and receive it. Here, it's just kind of part of the deal.

Erik suspects it might have been his fault, a miscommunication with the tile woman. Thankfully, it's not horrible and is relatively close to what we ordered. Instead of a neutral color on the yellow/tan side, it's neutral on the grayish side. It could be so much worse.

It could be like our first place, when we ordered tan carpet for the whole house, and got gray instead. When we pointed out the difference, they initially insisted it was the same. Later, they admitted, "This is what we had at the factory." Or it could be like the time we spent an hour choosing the covers and countertops for our cabinets (pine color covers and dark counters) and got two random orangish/yellow colors that didn't really go together. Or what about the time we chose dark forest green couch covers, and our couches showed up in a vibrant green? It begs the question, "Why do you bother asking us to choose colors?"

So if this is the worst mistake that happens in our renovation, I'd consider us very lucky indeed. Here's hoping . . .

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I found this quote on a friend's page today and had to post it because I'm a sucker for Henri Nouwen:

“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not 'How can we hide our wounds?' so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but 'How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?' When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.” Henri Nouwen

Have you ever acknowledged how you have been wounded? What have you done with your wounds? Have you tried to pretend they don't exist, or don't bother you? Or have you allowed God to enter in and redeem them?

Monday, July 26, 2010

I have not forgotten how to be thankful. I have simply been storing them up in my heart!

251. My family is here! This includes:
252. My dad
253. My mom
254. My sister, Lisa
255. My brother, Christopher
256. My sister-in-law, Rachel
257. 3 bags worth of supplies from the States which was like Christmas!
258. Having all of them here for my birthday
259. The joy of seeing our kids enjoy their family members
260. Gifts from Uncle Christopher and Aunt Rachel that will encourage our kids in their interests (specifically learning guitar and cooking)
261. How relaxed everyone in my family is, whether we are braving a tourist site or chilling at home
262. Their presence has filled in the gap left by our friends
263. BBQs in the backyard, even if it hot and muggy
264. Our little pool in the backyard for hot days
265. Great birthday gifts that say "I know you and I love you" from friends and family
266. Help with the kids while my family is here!
267. Eric and Jen Ford, and kids, back for a few weeks
268. Time with Jen at the dirt market, where I got the lamp I've wanted
269. Successfully finding an apartment for friends coming from the U.S.
270. Progress on our apartment
271. A move date - August 16th!
272. The use of a friend's car so we can drive everyone to fun places around town
273. board game fun with the family
274. a tragic car key breaking incident last week resulting in Erik having a great spiritual conversation with a woman who owns a massage store (you'd better believe we're both going back there for more conversation and massages!)
275. Erik has been able to be with us for most of this time that my family has been visiting!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Special delivery

Last week our postal carrier informed me that we had a large box which she had tried to deliver when we weren't home. Because it was large, she didn't want to bring it again and left it at the post office for us to get ourselves. She told me the post office was "next to the grocery store."

When I went to the grocery store, there was no post office in sight. I asked a few guards there and on the street where the nearest post office was, but in typical Chinese fashion they had no idea. This a lamentable aspect of society here - people have no clue about things outside of their own zone of responsibility.

We found a post office which looked abandoned and was locked. There was a large, lone package on the counter which I fervently hoped wasn't ours ("Looks like the foreigners aren't coming. Let's ditch!"). We returned home and hoped that the postal carrier would have mercy and bring it again.

This afternoon I was over at a neighbor's house preparing it for my family's arrival, when there was a knock on the door. It was our postal carrier. She looked at me for a moment like, "Do I know you?" then proceeded to show me a large package and say, "Do you know this person?" It was my name on the box.

She had gone to our house, and finding us not at home, decided to go find another foreigner under the presumption that we all know each other (and in this case, a good assumption). So all's well that ends well and we have our package.

A sad post script to this post though is that this may be our last delivery from Book Depository. They have suspended shipping to China for the time being. And there is great despair in the land.

Market shopping

Whenever I run along the canal, I see an outdoor produce market that opens in the wee hours of the morning. Every time I think, "I should come here," and then I don't.

I want to go there because I have a strong suspicion that the prices are much cheaper than the grocery stores. But more importantly I want to go there because it reminds me of how we used to live here (seriously, if you don't like me going all grandma on you, you just shouldn't read my blog). We used to have a produce market like this at the bottom of our building where I bought 90% of my produce, and even some of my meat (that's right, we live on the edge!). It was so cheap I remember one time walking away with 10 lbs of food for $1.50.

Finally this morning I dragged the kids out on their bikes, threw my panniers on mine, and headed down there (it's about a mile away). Since it was already 9 a.m., the place was really hopping. I unfortunately only had about 20Y of small bills and several hundreds. 100Y bills are death at places like that because no one wants to take them, but thankfully the man selling asparagus did. Altogether though, I only spent about 50Y (about $7.50) and walked away with carrots, cucumbers, eggs, lettuce, asparagus, bananas, rice, peaches, and a large fruit called "ha mi gua." I don't know what it's called in English, but I would call it, "sweet piece of heaven in my mouth" and it looks like a melon. The man who sold it to me said I was the first foreigner he'd even seen in that market, which made me rejoice just a little. The kids confirmed this by saying they'd been barraged by questions at the playground and were quite ready to go home. I told them next time they should stay with me, because that guy gave me a piece of ha mi gua for free and it was delicious.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Psalm 16

Last week, Ethan asked me why God made us come back to China only to have his best friend leave so soon. I didn't answer the question then, but this morning as I walked around our complex, I heard a song based on Psalm 16 and thought it was time to take a stab at a response (the song is by Jason Gray-formerly Gay but changed his name for obvious reasons-and if you are unfamiliar with his music you're missing out).

Here is the part I shared with them:
"Keep me safe, O God,
for in you I take refuge.

I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing."

LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure"

We talked about what it means to have an assignment, to have a portion that is measured out just for you. We talked about the boundaries around a property and how they keep us safe and show us where we are supposed to be. And we talked about how all these things are from the hands of a good God who loves us and wants the best for us.

And then we talked about how this assignment from God might work out for our good. Soon, we will be moving to a part of town where there are many people we know and love. Erik will be a 5 minute walk from work (I mean literally from his desk to our door!). We will have more time as a family and more connection with our team. And that is only what we know - who knows what else God has in store?

We reflected on how this has been a good chapter of our lives, given to us by God. We talked about previous chapters that weren't as great, but we can see how God brought us through. And we ended by confirming our belief that whatever is in the next stage, God is there.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

- C.S. Lewis

We had a sad parting yesterday at the airport. There were hugs and "I love you's" all around, and the mommies were in tears. Afterward the kids and I went to a hotel and met a good friend who brought her kids so we could all swim together. I was glad for the distraction, especially with someone who knew our friends well and knows how hard it is to lose them.

We lost it at bedtime, as the reality hit us again. I know that in the days and weeks, even months to come, the grief will surprise me at odd times - like just now, coming home, and seeing their empty windows. I am struggling with the balance between distracting myself from the pain, and allowing myself to fully process it. I know too much of the former is unhealthy, but for the kids' sake I can't be a constant puddle. So for now I will continue as I have been, to allow myself moments of tears. In the end, I know this can be good for our hearts, if we will leave them open and allow God to keep us soft. I believe it enlarges us and gives us a greater capacity to love in the future when we see that it is still worth it to love well.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Hardest Goodbye

I've written before about the occupational hazards of being an expat, particularly the inclination of friends to up and leave you. Today we will navigate what will probably be the most difficult goodbye to date, if Ethan's comment at bedtime last night is any indication, "Tomorrow is going to be the worst day of my LIFE!"

Dan and Jenny Higgins came to China for the long haul with us in the summer of 1999 when we first came. We were then two young pregnant couples. Since then, 7 children have come into the world between us (they have been much braver than we in the kid department). They lived a floor below us for several years, then a building away for a couple more. It was sad to part with them when we moved to Singapore, but we managed to see each other at least once, usually twice, a year while we were there.

Last summer when we moved back, we were thrilled to get an apartment right next door to them on the first floor. The number of hours logged with them this year is hard to count. It's tempting to be frustrated that we only had one year with them (and, Ethan is quick to point out, they were gone last summer and we were gone part of the winter, so it's not even a full year) but we will choose to be thankful that we had this year. It's been a great gift!

With the Higgins, we feel like we've experienced the true definition of community. We've just done life together, and it's been loads of fun, which is why it's so hard to see it go. We feel confident that some day in the future our paths will cross again though!

I keep thinking about the line from Shadowlands, where C.S. Lewis asks, "Why do we love when it causes so much pain?" and Joy answers, "The pain then is part of the joy now." This is when I am reminded of the challenge to pursue the people in our lives wholeheartedly, resisting the temptation to pull away and protect our hearts from the pain of losing them, because in doing so we would rob ourselves of the joy.

So think of us this morning as we enjoy our last hours with our friends. Adding to the difficulty of this goodbye is the fact that Erik is on the same flight as them to the States for a 6 day trip. The kids and I are headed to a hotel tonight for some swimming and fun (although we've been to this hotel with the Higgins so many times I don't know that it will help me keep my mind off them leaving!) and to a movie with some friends tomorrow. Next week my family comes to visit, so we're looking forward to that. In the meantime, pray for us!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Talks about God

As we face the imminent departure of our closest friends here, the emotions are running high. Yesterday Ethan came into the house in tears because he hasn't been able to spend as much time with his friend Jackson this week as he had hoped. Through his sadness, he asked me, "Why did God bring us back to China if He was just going to make the Higgins leave so soon?"

Well, I have a lot of theories about that, but I knew he didn't want to hear any of them. So we just sat and cried together.

When I put him to bed, I told him that I was glad he'd asked that question, and asked how he was feeling toward God. This led into a long discussion about being honest with God (since He knows what we're thinking anyway!), hearing from God, heaven ("I can imagine going on forever, but I can't imagine not having a beginning!" he said), what being born again really means, how to grow closer to God, why it's ok to have doubts and question Him. It was the most precious conversation I think we've ever had.