Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Excited about America

In the 13 years we've lived in Asia, we've never been back in the States for more than 3 months at a time, and even then, we weren't really living there. I've started thinking about what it will be like to actually live in the States again and what I'm looking forward to on a completely surface level. Yes, this is going to be a shallow post, but I think of these things once in awhile and they get me excited to live in the States. It may or may not be a coping mechanism to avoid the real pain of leaving. :)

1. Not having to shop like a ninja. Usually I'm trying to purchase clothes for my family once every 2 years or so, within about 2 months time at the most. I've been at the mercy of whatever happens to be in the stores. I'm in and out and whatever I've got is what we wear until the next trip. I'll be able to buy clothes when we need them, or wait till they're on sale, or until there's something I really like!

2. American sized things. Admittedly, at first being back in the States I feel like I'm in Gulliver's Travels, the part where he's with the giants. Everything is oversized compared to Asia. But then I get used to warehouse sized stores and washing machines I can fit whole people into, and they are glorious.

3. High quality paper products. I'm kind of a paper products snob. To me, if it's going to rub any part of my body, or be used to absorb any amount of liquid, it needs to be thick and soft. Asia makes paper products you can see through and feel a little like sawdust. Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm dreaming of using rolls of paper towels as pillows.

4. Getting back all the time I waste staring at products in stores, trying to discern if they are what I want or not because I can only read 2/3 of the characters, if that. On the other hand, for a period of time I know this time will be spent staring at the overwhelming number of choices that will present themselves. People, I just want toothpaste and deodorant and bread. I don't need 50 choices for each of these. But at least I'll be able to read my choices!

5. The process of cooking and baking not requiring the use of excessive amounts of time and money. There's nothing like the feeling of spending $5 on a brownie mix that you had to drive across town to purchase being ruined because you accidentally left your Easy Bake style oven on broil. Again. Or thinking you have the ingredients to make that recipe you saw on Pinterest, and having to change direction mid-course because to get that one ingredient you don't have would require a one hour round trip drive. I've almost cried Gollum-style, "My Precious!" over granola bars I baked too long as I think about the wheat germ, flax seed, raisins, and chocolate chips, that went into them. Seriously, they're hard to find and expensive. But not in America!

Ok, I know that I may be idealizing America right now. I know when I get there I'll lament many things I miss about Asia. But everywhere has pros and cons, and you just have to let yourself get excited about them once in awhile.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Blessing of Goodbyes

When was the last time you told a good friend or co-worker how much they mean to you? Or told them the impact they have made on your world? I know if it weren't for the crazy life we live, I wouldn't have a ready answer for those questions. But such is the expat life.

Last night, we said goodbye to a couple we've known literally since the minute we stepped into China (actually even before!). They have lived here for 25 years. The way they have lived amazes us. I know few people who live with such attitudes of faith, perseverance and optimism in the face of great difficulties.

Our office gathered to say goodbye to them, and I was able to share a brief history of their time here, concluding with the impact they have had on me personally. Afterwards, others stood and shared stories and encouragement from their own interaction with them. It put us all in a mood to continue not only sharing about our friends, but affirming our love for each other. Yeah, it was a great big love fest.

These moments wring my heart. It feels like a piece of the fabric of our lives is being ripped out. How do you fill that hole again? On the other hand, it gives us the opportunity to tell them how much that part of our tapestry has meant to us, how beautiful they have made life. As difficult as it is to say goodbye, I'm grateful that it brings to the surface all the things we truly feel but don't often say.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Good Grief

Grief is one of the obvious downsides of transition. It's always tempting, when I leave a place, to avoid grief. I can do it by staying busy or staying focused on what's to come, or I can diminish my heart by telling myself that I'm not as attached as I am.

I've learned though that none of those are good options because grief is a friend. It helps us feel deeply and see how much our hearts have been opened to others, to love. To deny it is not only to be untruthful about the impact a place or person has had on me, but it closes my heart to the future. Denial of grief does not make the pain go away. It simply shames it and hides it away for another time.

I've noticed this all around me, not only in people who are going through a transition like ours. We don't like to deal with grief, and we don't like others to deal with it either. So we avoid it by staying busy, or focusing on only the positive things in life, or we tell ourselves it's not that big of a deal. Worse still, as believers we spiritualize grief with platitudes like, "Oh but God will use this" or "This is His will." Those things, albeit true, stifle our hearts and our ability to process the hurt.

Dan Allender said it well this week in our video, "We live in a community that does not know how to grieve, and won't allow grief. And we live in a community, therefore, that silences those who know shame, because if you cannot grieve then shame must stay silent." 

The other night at dinner, we were talking about our move. Ethan became very emotional and said, "I don't want to talk about it! Whenever I start to think about it, I just avoid it!" We talked about how instead it might be better to give ourselves times when we DO let ourselves think about it, and let ourselves feel the depth of the loss of leaving, and weep over it. We don't need to cry constantly between now and when we leave, but we do need to honor our hearts and allow ourselves space to feel. 

Grief is good. It allows us to purge the pain and wrestle with God in the darkest places, only to see that He is there as well. He is as good in the darkness as He is in the light, but we can't see that unless we allows ourselves to go there. Grief brings healing. It keeps our hearts open. I hope I can remember all this through the process!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Trying to Think Strategically

So here's what I'm trying to think through this morning:

How do I pack for a 3 1/2 week trip that includes mid-60's weather for all of us, mid-80's weather for Erik and I, plus a wedding? How do I also consider what we need to take back to the States with us now because it needs to be in Minnesota when we get there in September and can't be shipped directly to Orlando? We can only take 6 bags with us when we leave in September, so we have to be strategic. And what gifts and fun stuff can I bring back for my family and friends? And when on earth am I going to buy those? Furthermore, what should I send with Erik to Orlando when he goes in June?

While we're in the States, I'll get to work through what we will need to bring back (if anything) to get us through the summer, and how much space do we really have to bring back stuff for other people? (the requests are piling up!).

Such is the thought life of the traveling expat. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Life In Between

For the past few months, I've been pondering the idea of what it means to live "in between." It seems that in many areas of my life I am called to live between who I was and who I will be, depravity and redemption, this place and that one, this identity and another. As a believer and a displaced person, I feel like I'm never fully at home.

I wrestle with this a lot. I'm someone who likes things to be wrapped up neatly, for life to be predictable and manageable, but it seems like God calls me to more and more mess in my heart and life. Many years ago, I was encouraged to pursue being someone who is "undone." That sounded like a horrible idea. Being undone sounds messy, awkward, embarrassing, uncomfortable. You're telling me I have to fall apart? No thank you. But a few weeks later, I asked Ethan not to do something because it was "unsafe." He asked me what unsafe meant. I said, "It means not safe. Like untied means not tied, and undone means . . . not done." Light bulb! So being undone isn't just falling apart, it's recognizing I was never "done" in the first place? Got it. 

One of the biggest ways God makes me aware that I'm not done, that I'm still living in between, is through transition. Nothing stirs up your heart and makes you lose your equilibrium like change. Last September we somewhat unexpectedly began a process of change that has led us to see that our time in Asia is drawing to a close. We hadn't shared this news with everyone until recently, so I haven't been able to share how I am processing the emotions of saying goodbye to what has been home for 13 years. This September we will leave here, head back to Minnesota for a few months, and then start a new life in Orlando, Florida.

So now we are living between excitement and fear, terrible sadness and joyful anticipation. Sometimes it feels like too much to bear, and we still have 4 months here. It will only be a greater tension as our departure draws near.

I've been looking forward to being able to share our transition process on my blog because I believe it will help me work through all this upheaval. I plan to change the url for my blog soon, since I will no longer be living my Asian life (and we're certainly not the Butz fam in Singapore anymore!). I anticipate that it will take a long time before we feel settled back in America. In fact, I expect that we will never completely feel settled there. It will just continue to be my "in between" life.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Project 365 April 8-14

When Erik and I saw this, we both thought of the line from Better Off Dead, "That's just a shame, someone throwing away a perfectly good white boy like that." Or in this case, girl.

Street popcorn! 60c a bag. Love.

Like mother, like daughter

Working on art homework for co-op

lovely buds

And more. I love taking flower pictures.

She shoots, she scores! Ok, she actually didn't but let's give her style points.

Pre-flight Turbulence

Friends, when your normally positive, "we'll make it happen," "it'll all work out," hakuna matata husband says to you, "From now until we leave for the States in a week, I'm going to be VERY busy. Oh and I have go to Hong Kong," you can translate it as, "You're not going to see me until we get on the plane."

So how will we manage from now until then? Well, my inner planner/future thinker self will go into high gear and plan out pretty much every hour between now and then, because that's how I roll. I don't do procrastination because it's just too stressful. I already have two bags packed. I have to tackle making our daughter's 10th birthday special (despite the fact that all her gifts are waiting in America), do some last minute shopping, have a night out with friends, teach a speech class, host our Friday night group, and have a sleepover with friends, on top of all our regular activities. Oy.

Buckle up kids. There might be some turbulence.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Up With the Sun

I'm an "up with the sun" kind of girl. By summer, this will be a little annoying because since all of China is on the same time zone, our sunrise happens at around 4 am by then. But right now it's 5:45, with dawn actually at 5:10. That means not only no more getting up when it's pitch dark (well, maybe a little since I usually get up at 5) but it also means that it's been waking the kids up naturally. No more dragging them out of bed!

This morning they were both up and downstairs by 6:30, fed by 7, and off to work on things. It's 8:20 and they are halfway done with school. I'm thankful they're like me - their best mental energy and engagement is in the early hours - so they're even more productive the earlier they start. Hooray for early sunrises!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


This is the best time of year here! There are tons of blossoming trees and bushes that takes turns sprouting beautiful flowers over the course of several weeks. It starts with the yellow bushes, then the magnolias and cherry blossoms come out. Next are the lilacs and the pink and red flowers (I don't know what they're called). There are also purple and white flowers that cover the ground everywhere. By the time it's all over we will be in the States enjoying spring there. Yay!

Monday, April 09, 2012

Dear America

Dear America,

I'm going to see you in just over two weeks! I'm really excited. I've heard you have been unseasonably warm this spring. I hope that doesn't mean your spring flowers will be gone. In our 13 years overseas I've never seen you in April, so please keep some of those tulips and daffodils in bloom until I'm there and it would be great if you're not too hot.

I'm looking forward to your stores, to be honest. They're so big! And so full of stuff! And I don't have to stare at the labels on things for several minutes to try and see if I know what they are or what's in them, although sometimes I do get overwhelmed by the number of choices you throw at me.

Thanks for having bike paths and clear skies so I can go for runs in you in the morning. I'm looking forward to doing that without quite so many other people. It's not that I don't enjoy seeing the people here - they're friendly and curious, like the guy I always see running who shouts, "HEY!" at me and smiles when he sees me. But sometimes it's nice to run in silence without anyone loudly clearing their qi or staring at my odd and, in their minds, insufficient clothing.

Thanks for having online shopping. It's not quite as great as Tao Bao, I'll have to own that, but it's awesome for us because it means things will be waiting for us when we get there like those dresses I bought in the hopes one of them will be just right for the wedding. It saves us so much time that we can then spend with people instead.

Oh, and thanks for libraries. Free public libraries are one of the best things about you I think. I know I won't be there 24 hours before I visit one of them.

I can't wait!


Sunday, April 08, 2012


In case you wonder if we live a lonely life over here in Asia, this is a recap of our week:

Thursday, we observed the Seder (celebrated the Seder? I'm not sure quite how to phrase that) with 3 other families. Friday, we had our group of about 20 over to watch Dan Allender and then discuss it in smaller groups (our group only has 7 people in it).  Saturday I took a group of 5 other friends to the dirt market with me by way of introduction (some had never been) and to help one of them redecorate her apartment. While I was doing that, Erik and the kids were at soccer practice. One of our friends is coaching all the kids in the neighborhood - probably about 25 of them. Afterwards they had a picnic with parents and siblings.

In the evening, we had two families over for a BBQ because it was beautiful outside. Then today after church we joined several other families for an Easter egg hunt and picnic on top of a nearby building. As we were wrapping up, Megan asked us if we had plans for dinner because one of her friends wanted to invite us all over. I'm looking at this week when we're going to have several families over for dinner on Wednesday night and then 7 little girls over to celebrate Megan's birthday on Friday night and I said, "Maybe not tonight." I mean this is awesome, but I think the introvert in me might be reaching her limit.

Project 365 - April 1-7

From our porch

It gets cold in the evening!

Lilac buds - I'm so excited!


The Seder

Hard at work

Leaves are showing!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Project 365 - March 26-31

Old and new

A walk in the woods

The first blossoms of the spring

This just seemed better in sepia

Hard at work (with "concentration caps" on his forehead)

Maybe my favorite spring flowers here

I don't see a good future for these guys

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Parenting is Hard

A few weeks ago at church, an elderly gentleman visiting from the States was our guest preacher. He has been a child psychiatrist for decades and has 5 kids of his own. Given his background, I was hopeful that his message about parenting would be full of wisdom and encouragement. The two main points were, "Parenting isn't hard," and "The goal is not to give your kids a happy childhood. It's to raise them to be good people."

I wanted to throw things at him.

His reasoning was that God has made it abundantly clear in scripture how we should raise our children, so if we just do what the Bible says they'll turn out fine. It reduces the Bible to a guidebook, and parents to people who either follow the guidelines or not. If your kids don't turn out well in this reasoning, you have no one to blame but yourself. This reasoning doesn't account for the fact that we are sinners raising sinners in a fallen world, with an enemy focused on our demise. This reasoning is both naive and discouraging. If I pretend these realities don't exist, I will berate myself when I find that parenting isn't easy. Now I'm not denying the other great reality which is that God is on our side, and He will fight for us. But I don't think it does us any good to minimize the truth of the battle. Parenting is hard. It's crazy hard. It's "what have I gotten myself into?" kind of hard. Even with God on my side. I can't imagine doing it without Him.

And then there's his second point. Now I agree that the goal is not to give our kids a happy childhood. But my goal is far beyond making my kids "good people." As Ravi Zacharias said, "Christianity is not about making bad people good. It's about making dead things alive." I have come to believe that the greatest thing I do for my kids is not to teach them rules for living, but to show them how desperately we all need Jesus, and how abundant is His salvation for our need.

Doing that means we have days like today when it's hard. Hard with a capital H. Days when our sin natures clash like in some epic battle, swords clanging, over things as seemingly trivial as Latin homework and piano practice. I could be discouraged and wonder, "Why is this so hard? What am I doing wrong?" Or I could remind myself that this is where we learn. This is when we grow. This is where we recognize that we sin, and we confess, and we receive forgiveness from Him and each other. This is when we have the opportunity to become not good people but dependent people, who are not learning a list of rules but learning how to live by the Spirit.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


One of the ways we've made life work here throughout the years is by relying on the many visitors who come from the States to be pack mules for the things we can't find (it's helpful to be in a major city where many people pass through!). Of course we could live without most of these items, but it's a treat to have them.

We have one particular friend who works with Erik who seems to be married to the most generous woman I know. She's sent us things before. Once I asked for a bag of Halloween candy and she sent 12 bags (we used them for a women's retreat). Erik asked for deodorant and got 6 of them. Another time, unprompted, she sent 20+ Yankee Candles in jars-one for every woman who works in our office. So I should have known that she might go beyond my list when she asked what she could send. Take this picture for example:

I asked for:
1 container of Crystal Light lemonade (she sent eight)
1 bag of Easter candy (there are 6)
1 bottle of Febreeze (I'm paranoid that our house smells like dog. I can be excessive now because she also sent a 2 liter refill)
an eye liner (she included a brow pencil)
blush (she threw in a powder that's just right - how does she know Asia doesn't have make up for blue eyed white girls?)
one Suave shampoo and conditioner (I found the same kind here for $10 a bottle - that's probably what she spent on all 6 that she sent me)
face lotion (I got a bonus)
1 box of feminine products (I realized after assessment later that I didn't actually need more. Now I have 3 new boxes)
cooking spray (two of those)
a few things from Amazon

I debated not asking for anything since we're going to the States in a few weeks for a wedding, but these were all things I can't get here and needed before then (ok, needing is debatable on some of these items). And our friend had space so I figured why not? Now I'm looking at this stash feeling a little sheepish. I forgot she'd send so much! I gave 3 bags of the candy away, and Erik is using one of the lotions. Anybody need some stuff from the States?

Monday, April 02, 2012

Project 365 Day 19-24

Day 19 - his first black eye, courtesy of a wild game with friends

Day 20 - my "new" nook - I rearranged the downstairs guest room

Day 21 - joy!

Day 22 - ok, technically this was also day 21, but I liked it (and I was sick the next day so no photos)

Day 23 - clouds! They are rare here

Day 24 - Dim sum with girlfriends!