Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A new chapter

So, here we are. Finding a new normal in between middle of the night feedings and getting used to
owning a car again. Two big transitions in the span of two months. Back in May, after a whirlwind six weeks of selling furniture and saying goodbye to dear friends that had become family, we packed up all we own into our well traveled suitcases and flew the opposite direction over the Pacific to move our family back to Washington State. And then, as if a huge international move was not enough transition, five weeks later we welcomed our son, Reece Henry, into our lives. Like I said, we are finding a new normal. Trying, grasping, hoping, struggling, living, finding, and becoming a new normal. 

How do you sum up four years lived in another culture? How do you process the countless lives you became part of and the friends you still dearly miss? How do you ever eat Chinese food again? 

When I first returned Stateside over four months ago, I received comments such as, "I bet you are glad to be back." This was, and still is, a hard question to answer. Because I am glad. I am thankful God was gracious and allowed me to have my son in the States. I am thankful family is here to support us and be part of my children's lives. I appreciate the efficiency of America and being able to communicate in my first language. But I am also sad. I miss China. I miss my friends and church community. I miss our amazing Ayi. I miss the convenience of living in a city where fresh fruit and vegetable stands dot the sidewalk. I miss the freedom of my scooter.

It is hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes. Big changes like this usually prompt a questioning of what God is doing and why it all happened so fast. I still can't believe we have already been Stateside for four months. However, we see His fingerprints all over this move. We sensed the changes coming, so when circumstances drastically changed we were able to confidently approach God and see where He was leading us (of course, not before we did a little freaking out and others graciously directed our attention to the obvious). 

And so, here we find ourselves. Steven started a new job on September 1st with our home church as the Executive Pastor, we bought a new-to-us car (yay for mini vans!), and we are starting the process of looking for a house in the Tri Cities area. New beginnings, exciting changes, but we serve the same God. He knew what we needed before we needed it and He hasn't changed, even if our new normal has. And I am so grateful for that. 

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
James 1:17

Monday, June 29, 2015

Have child, will travel - our week in Guanxi province

Traveling with a little one in tow is a lot of work, especially when you are talking about planes and buses! Living in China, I don't want to be the family who doesn’t like to travel with kids. On the contrary, I want to be excited to travel with my child, even when it is a lot of work.

We recently took a trip to Guanxi province in Southern China, an area of China we have wanted to travel for a long time. Besides our trip back to the States over Christmas, it was the first time we really traveled with Atalie. And, it was the first time we have traveled together in China since moving here (trips to Shanghai excluded). Both Steven & I have made a few trips around China with friends in the three years we've lived here, but never together. I was excited to get out of our city for a bit and see a new side of China I hadn't experienced before. Plus, we would get to spend a whole week together!! That, in and of itself, is always the best reason to get away together. 

Our trip overall was amazing, we had some high highs and some low lows. Kind of like the mountains and rivers of the places we saw. I want to share more about Yangshuo in a separate post, but here I'll post some highlights & some hard spots. 

Selfie time at the riverfront park in Liuzhou
Highlight 1: Liuzhou
We got to visit our friend's hometown! Liuzhou is an ancient city with 18 bridges connecting the two sides across the river. Our sweet friend, Joy is from Liuzhou and it was fun to have her as tour guide. We got to see the riverfront, pick up a Starbucks mug (my souvenir of choice whenever we travel), and spend time with her family. Liuzhou is in the mountains and it was cool to see green and mountains peaking up through the city scape. The city also has a very different feel from what we are used to in Nanjing. Even though this time of year the temperatures are relatively the same, the people in Liuzhou dress more casually (women weren’t wearing hosiery, even in the heat of summer in Nanjing they all wear nylons) and it has more of an island or tropical feel to it. It was fun to see and experience!

Hard Spot 1: the bus rides
Atalie making friends on the airport bus back to Guilin

Liuzhou is in the mountains. I know. I already said that. We flew into Guilin, arriving at 9:30pm, and then we took the airport bus to Liuzhou...through the mountains. For two hours. That first night we didn't get to bed until 2am. The roads weren't in excellent condition either and bumpiness of the bus and the tired condition of the travelers made for an uncomfortable ride. We were traveling with another family who has two kids (1 & 3 years old). Considering how much time we were on a bus, the kids did great! Oh. We had our moments, like the day we left Liuzhou, traveled back to the airport at Guilin, picked up the rest of our traveling party and then took a private bus four hours in another direction into the mountains. One kid got sick, several adults were nauseous, and parts of the drive were a bit frightening. But we made it! We did it! With kiddos. High fives and fist bumps for everyone!

Highlight 2: The views!
Oh my. I have never seen more beautiful scenery in China. We really traveled off the beaten path, but it was gorgeous. To be surrounded by God's creation again was nourishing to my soul. Watching the mountains pass by outside the bus window made the long hours bearable. And the places we stayed had amazing views. After Liuzhou, we went to Jinxiu, an all inclusive Chinese resort village in the mountains. There was nothing else around. We were tucked in against a river and mountain sides. The air was clean & oh, the stars! Lovely. After Jinxiu we got back on the bus and spent our last two nights in Yangshuo. Amazing views of the mountains from our hotel. I didn't realize how much I missed the mountains.

The river at our resort in Jinxiu, and it was clean!
Driving through the mountains to and from Jinxiu
This was on the highway somewhere outside of Yangshuo

Hard Spot 2: Hard beds & squatty potties
A friendly host in our first room overlooking the river,
another good reason to change rooms!
At Jinxiu, our hotel was not what us spoiled Western travelers are used to. Actually, I’m not even sure how many Westerners had ever been to the hotel we stayed at. All the American kids attracted quite a bit of attention, Atalie included. At one point, she took pictures with several Chinese in a row! All it takes is one person to ask and then all their friends want a photo with the little white baby, too. I always wonder what they do with those photos…anyways, I digress. So the hotel was a bit off the beaten path, I won't go into details, but at first we were given a room overlooking the river with no A/C. Thankfully, one of our friends traveling with us negotiated with the manager and got our family and themselves rooms in the main building. So, we got the A/C, but with it came very hard beds and a squatty potty with shower combo! I share this as a hard spot because the second night I was already sore from sleeping on the bed the first night and could hardly sleep. But at least I wasn't sweating!! I'm glad I didn't know it would be like this. We just all had to grin and bear it. When traveling in China, it is best to be flexible and willing to go with the flow. We brought our own travel bed for Atalie, she definitely had the most comfortable place to sleep. 

Highlight 3: Taking Atalie swimming
At Jinxiu, we went swimming with Atalie in the river and our hotel in Yangshuo had a swimming pool. She loved it. I'm so glad she enjoyed the water! It was fun to splash around with her and I'm excited for when our pool here in our complex opens on July 1st!!

Swimming in the river at Jinxiu on Father’s Day (she wasn’t so sure about it at first)
Taking advantage of the pool at The Giggling Tree in Yangshuo
Hard Spot 3: Sickness
The day after we got back I was really sick. I finally threw up and then felt better. The next day, Steven got sick. Then, Atalie had diarrhea. That's what happens when you travel! We think we pinpointed the culprit, but it's not unusual to get sick when traveling in Asia. Thankfully, it was after we got home and not while on the plane!

Highlight 4: Yangshuo
The last two nights we spent in Yangshuo at a place called The Giggling Tree. I'll share more in another post, but this was definitely the highlight of the whole trip. It was a little oasis in China, good food, comfortable beds and gorgeous scenery. I hope we go back someday!

We went for a 3 hour bike ride through villages and rice patties with amazing views.  Atalie is in the carrier on Steven’s back.
I actually don't think I have a fourth "hard spot" to share. More highlights than hard spots! I’ll take it. Overall, it was an amazing week and we enjoyed time together as a family and the time with friends. I would travel again with them all any day - especially with kids! :-) 

The best shot we got of all of us! I guess that’s what happens when you travel with 11 adults and 4 kids.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Things we see on the subway

I don't know where to start? The man purse? Athletic glove? Dead fish in a garbage bag? This guy has it all!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Zhuangxiu Blues

Loading all the flooring into a van
"Zhuangxiu" (zhoo-ong shee-oh, 装修) literally means "to fit up", as in, to fit up a house. Or as we would say, remodel. In China all the apartments are concrete boxes, so when one wants to zhuangxiu an apartment it involves a lot of jack hammers and obnoxious drilling. 

Two weeks ago, the family two floors above us started this process on their apartment. And if the loud noises and constant shaking from the jack hammers isn't enough, our stairwell is filled with clouds of dust and cigarette smoke from the construction crew. Not to mention the level of activity going up and down the stairs has increased dramatically causing Samson to bark loudly and often. Poor Atalie can hardly get a nap in, and I feel like I'm going crazy with all the noise. 
This is just one of those things that is part of life in China. Thankfully, the construction is limited to working hours and there is usually a two hour break for lunch around noon. It could be worse. But it still drives me crazy. My amazing Ayi went upstairs and asked them to be quiet between 12-2 so Atalie could nap well at least once per day.

The amount of stuff that comes out of the apartment is amazing! We've seen woodwork, flooring (with the nails still in it), and bags of debris piled up downstairs everyday. Some of the salvageable things they probably sell or use in another apartment they own. The bags of debris will sit there until they arrange for it to be picked up. It's unbelievable the amount of mess it creates as they cart it downstairs. And they don't clean up after themselves. 

How they get all that debris down the stairs
We're surviving. Today is supposed to  be the last day of construction. Then it's just a matter of time before another neighbor decides their place needs some

Friday, April 3, 2015

I was thinking of you

The Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem (March 2013)
Two years ago, I was fortunate to take a trip to the Holy Land with my mom. We went in March, and it was an amazing time of learning more about Christ and his life. During that trip, the person of Christ came alive - stepping out of the story and into reality. One of my first encounters with him on my journey actually took place on the plane ride from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv. This morning, as I was reading through the accounts of those last days Jesus had with his disciples in each of the Gospels, I recalled this in-flight epiphany. 

I had just finished reading “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” (Kenneth E. Bailey) and “Desire of the Everlasting Hills” (Thomas Cahill). From both those books, I felt I had a much richer understanding of what it meant to be a first century Jew living in Israel. I could picture Jesus encountering his culture in a whole new way (and how radical his ministry really was). I remember staring out the window of the plane, lost in thought about all the sites I would soon be seeing, the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, the Garden of Gethsemane, and a conversation took place between me and Jesus.

I was picturing Christ in the Garden, kneeling, praying, sweating, wrestling. I asked him, “Jesus, I know you prayed, but after that, when the moment finally came…what were you thinking?” The Spirit moved within me as I heard him answer, “I was thinking of you.” 

I’m not sure how much of that conversation was actually divine revelation versus my interpretation of what I know to be true of Christ’s love for me. Regardless, it was one of the deeper moments of my walk with Christ. The thought felt scandalous, and caught me off guard. Me? He was thinking of me? It was intimate and revealing. It reminded me of another time when I was given a revelation of Christ shouting my name. It made his death deeply personal. It made his relationship with me deeply personal. He was thinking of me? My only response was humble adoration. Gratitude for a loving Savior who thinks of me during his darkest hour. He was about to complete a task that would deplete him emotionally, physically, and spiritually, and he was thinking of me? I cannot adequately reciprocate that kind of love. I am not worthy. Thankfully, in his abundant grace, I do not have to be. His love is my love. I am worthy because he is worthy, and he chose me. We love because he first loved us. And, my, how deep that love is. 

Depiction of Christ, rock carving in the Garden
of Gethsemane, Jerusalem (March 2013)
So many times we go through the motions. Many holidays are like this. We know the story, heard it a million times, and so, we check out spiritually. Of course, we pray, meditate, but we’ve done it all before. "It’s the same message”, we rationalize as our minds drift off to plans for the week, who we are meeting up with after church or the last text message we received. But even if the message is the same, the beauty of following Christ is that he is living, and living beings move, initiate, and inspire. 

This morning as I read through the account of Christ’s final moments with his disciples, I was reminded of his humanity. He was an actual person. A dear friend and teacher. He was flesh and bone and they heard and saw and experienced him. In our small group we are studying 1 John. Last week, we camped out on the first four verses. It is obvious from the text that John was stressing to his audience that Christ was a real person: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands…” John wanted them to know that Jesus wasn’t just a story, but he was real. He lived and breathed; and he’s still living and breathing! 

I hope each of you encounter Christ this weekend. May the Spirit move within you during this season of Easter, that you may experience his deep, personal, real love for you. May you know that when he picked up the cross he was thinking of you; when he fell in the street, got back up, and continued walking he was thinking of you; when he let soldiers drive nails through his wrists and feet he was thinking of you, when he struggled for breath and when he choose to give up his spirit and die, the whole time, he was thinking of you. And when he triumphantly defeated death, rose from the grave and took his seat at the right hand of the Father, he was thinking of you. He was thinking of me. His final thoughts were for us, his children. That is real love. That is Godly love. 

Happy Easter. He is risen! He is alive. And he’s thinking of you.