Saturday, January 30, 2010

knitting my head around it

My mother tried. She really did. There were machine threading tutorials in elementary school, simple clothing projects in middle school, and countless times when she willingly took over a project I started, and never finished. She tried with all her maternal powers to instill in me the skills and desire to craft and create masterpieces of textile and thread out of my own bare hands... but to no avail. I just simply hated it. I liked the idea of the end product, but had no patience for the process.

Now here I am, thirty years old and wanting to reform my wanderlust ways. To make it worse, I have stumbled across a wicked web of ridiculously gifted and crafty women who will leave you with enough inspiration to knit , sew , photograph, cook, craft, and write for a lifetime. It's out of control how much talent and creativity they have oozing out of their every blogpost.

This desire to become more of a handmade homemaker comes at a time when my resources to do so are more limited than ever. Is that ironic or is there some sort of lesson I'm destined to learn here? And if you know me at all, these "little" questions always lead me skipping, dare I even say galloping at breakneck speed down the path to the BIGGER questions of life. What is my problem? I cannot simply let something bother me like any normal person would. No, it has to PLAGUE my brain to the point of unraveling as I try to resolve all of life's deepest issues, all because of one little thing like not being able to plant a garden, or buy some knitting needles.

It first occurred to me that perhaps there was more to this issue of "wanting to learn to knit" than I realized when I found myself nearly breaking down in tears while reading some of the above mentioned blogs. Who does that? They are supposed to helpful and fun. But, I was really struggling with envy at the lifestyles these women are able to lead and the kind of homes, resources, creative talents, and family lives they have. It forced me to a) stop reading so many blogs, and b) question and think through (for the __nth time... I mean,  how often do most people have to do this??) what my ultimate purpose in life is and why I believe God has our family here, in this place, doing what we do.

When we moved overseas, people would often comment on what an opportunity this was for our children-- to be exposed to another culture and language, etc. etc. I appreciated their sentiments, but it was never the reason we left. And it continues not to be the reason we remain. The phrase "there is no ideal place to raise a family" has gently encouraged me time and time again as I try to remember that though my children miss out on many things here (grass comes to mind), they gain much in return. The same however is true for what they might gain... there are always things we are sacrificing or doing without (bonfires, grandparents, gardening, sledding... lately the list grows long). Sometimes it really bothers me to think of the kind of life we could be (trying) to live back in the States and how little of that we are able to do here. But as my dear friend Jack Lewis says, "Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither."

Are you wondering what all this has to do with knitting? I'm painfully trying to get there.

The crazy talented photographer lady (above) calls her site walkslowlylivewildly, which led me to try to think of a succint little phrase that wraps up how we should aim at heaven, while not neglecting this earth. thinknearlivefar? livefullylovew(holy)? Hokey, I know. Thinking through this has been a serious challenge to my inner thought life and how much I do wrap my contentment around this present world. I'm all for living well, and living gratefully and responsibly in the bodies and environment God has given, but I think I'm missing a dose of the eternal perspective lately... the one that says this world IS passing away and that our Highest Joy and joys will be found in the One to come. As Elisabeth Elliot says, if you place your (whatever it is) in his hands as an offering to him... it may burn- but it knows no bounds when in the Potter's perfect hands.

Meanwhile, I knit. It's okay I think, to try to challenge myself with a new project or skill. I'm hopeful that I can somehow tread back over years of ungrateful tutelage and somehow recover some handcrafting skills. But, I'm also growing mindful of my need to think and dwell more on the place and Person I'm heading home to be with someday. Like a Daddy who's missing his girl, I know He has things for me to do (and enjoy) while He's away, but I'll never be truly at home til I'm knitting with Him.

My final January Challenge was supposed to be picking some sort of new skill to learn, but now I'm not sure exactly what that skill is. There appear to be many, both physically and mentally that I am lacking! Hope you are finding your skills (or lack thereof) challenged, whatever they may be...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Simply Thirty

When you are little the world of adulthood seems like another dimension. You think that not only will you likely never enter it, but it's contents are entirely impenetrable, like a bubble of underwater voices that rise and fall in and around you as you scurry through doorways and tear through the driveway on your latest upgrade of wheels. You never think you'll be thirty.

My son asked me how old I was on my birthday yesterday and he couldn't even count that high so it just left him baffled, awed, and bored... so he left to go play. I entered the Thirty's Club with a bang about as loud as the toilet lid smacking me awake at 4:30 a.m. I didn't think too much about it, but my husband was thrilled that I am finally old enough to hang out with him in public. He always rips on me for being born in the 80's. An entirely different decade than his superior self. I barely escaped being as cool as him by a mere 25 days. I thanked him again profusely for marrying me anyway.

It really was a lovely birthday (despite all my sarcasm that sometimes ruins everything)! It was so simple and sweet and I thought I would share just a few snapshots from the day that really made it just that... simple and sweet. Some things are not pictured and the first of those was my rockstar neighbors who dropped off some freshly baked lemon cranberry scones on their way out the door. How sweet is that? Made my morning. Others included the cascade of emails that made me feel hugged, thought of,  and missed (thus making me miss them again) from many miles away. A few moments did make it on camera however, and here they are.

: birthday breakfast :

: busy blur... really, most of what I see of her all day :

No, I am not becoming a mad scientist, creating homemade bombs or anything. This is just yet another contraption for making, what else? an intensely perfect cup of coffee. Thank you honey.

: very cool cards


She crawled up there and stayed put for several minutes. They are so sweet together. I think they know they look alike or something.

Dinner by candlelight, the best ice cream I've had in a LONG time, and some seriously authentic Tiramisu, all with this (see below) man. Perfect, perfect birthday.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Generosity Killed the Brat

It's a play off of "curiosity killed the cat," in case you didn't get it. Insert "generosity" where "curiosity" would normally go, and insert "brat" (that would be me) for the cat. Are you following? It took me a long time to think of that title. I just wanted to make sure you were with me.

It's already the fourth weekend of January 2010. Way back when , I said I was going to do a sort of "New Year Challenge" on each of the 5 weekends in January... primarily for the most avid reader of this blog-- that would be me. So, here we are at week #4 and I feel a small recap is in order.
  • We're boycotting hydrogenated corn syrup in the form of liquid beverage, namely SODA or POP. 
  • We're running (yay for all my friends who are braving it out in the winter cold and especially that special someone- you know who you are-- who is now at 6.5 minutes without stopping!).
  • We're going out with (I mean reading) C.S. Lewis.
This week I take you into my own personal confession box. Don't worry, I will leave the door open pretty wide  and won't keep you in here for long ever. I'm not even sure why I am writing about this on the world wide web instead of somewhere a bit safer like, I don't know, a JOURNAL. But, maybe I think this will keep me honest, accountable, or self-conscious, you pick. When I explained to my 3 year old today that God could hear him wherever he is, even the thoughts inside his own curly little head, he looked at me aghast (as though this was the first time he had ever heard it... when we've surely gone over it probably a million times). Maybe I'm having a bit of my son's "are you SURE he knows?" syndrome and am hoping God has me on his blog reader. Is that sacrilegious? I don't really think He has a blog reader. I do seriously need his help though, and here's why...

I am not generous. There, I said it. For all of you whom I have fooled and who think I like to give, give, give (is there anyone who thinks that? hello? helloo?), you were wrong. This is not, however, something I am proud of or am hoping to continue as a lifelong habit until the day I am a crotchety, stingy (but extremely tall) old woman. I want to change. I want to reform. Thus the challenge.

I've been thinking about this for awhile now because I am surrounded, it seems, by generous people. It's a beautiful character quality to behold: a neighbor of mine has it, my parents are generous in most every area of life I can think of, I have friends who are unrelentingly generous with their time, their money, their homes, their possessions. Often it requires sacrifice, a sense of thinking and considering others, a detachment from personal gain and possessions, a longing to bless the people around you.

My husband has this quality. He probably makes me realize my lack of it more than anyone else just by his abundant generosity towards me in a million little ways: Sleep in, go for a run, take the day off, go on a trip... and on and on it goes. Then there's me. The other day my oldest son was complaining about how often he has to clean up his toys and how hard it is, which led me into an illustrious and proverbial lecture on the wisdom of reforming your attitude in spite of your circumstance. The words were still rolling like precious pearls off my tonguge when I realized I was secretly cursing inside for having to put the kids to bed AGAIN and WHY was my husband playing the guitar STILL in the other room. Didn't he SEE and know I was in here slaving away by myself? Like I said, a serious lack of generosity.

Maybe you wouldn't define my problem with that exact term. I'm sure there are many other appropriate descriptions of whatever my problem is that could be added to my list of serious faults. I just don't want to get too depressed, so let me stick with one for now. I agree with you though, they all apply.

The thing with generosity is that it requires a thinking outside of yourself, and most importantly- putting others first. It's not something that comes naturally to me, or to most people, however positive and charitable the makeup of their constitution may be. Popular thinking seems to say these days that the best way to care for others is to care for yourself first. See to your needs, and then you'll be healthy enough to care for the needs of those around you. That sounds good, but it's not True in the way the Word of God explains our situation and our need.

This is where it gets sticky, tricky, and a little bit iffy. If you take what God says about our human nature, and about how we are to treat others, as True-- then you have to consider others above yourself, thinking not only of your own interests but of the interests and needs of those around you. You have to wash everyone else's feet, making yourself the servant. And you have to believe that when you do it in this "reverse," upside-down fashion, that God will bring joy, fulfillment and health to your soul.

Generosity kills the Brat. I'm pretty bratty so I'm thinking the turnover might be a painful one.  My challenge to you this week is two-fold: a) if you run into me, do not try to determine if I've grown more generous and b) more importantly,  think of something (probably something you've already had puttering and muttering around in your head) that you struggle with and humbly give it over... believing in faith that God will give you joy in the process (and he gives quite generously).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's About the Kids

It's midweek and the feeling of "slump" is in the air. Though there are a host of deep, profound, and I'm sure much more important things that could be talked about right now, I am going to boycott it all and do a Family Wagon Drive By. And by that I mean, I'm going to talk about my kids.

It's hard to think about much else today. It was wet, sleety, spitting and grey outside, which meant we were all INside making the most of our cozy little 3 bedroom apartment.

Let's begin with the Baby. She's not a baby anymore in my mind, really. Elsewhere I have written of how she has endeared herself to me in various ways during this past year, but today I must bemoan one of her more bothersome qualities. The girl is BUSY. This morning alone I found her: perched atop the boy's bunk-bed, about to fling herself headlong into the abyss below (mind you she has been working herself up to this by steadily climbing up and down the ladder each day, willing herself the strength and stamina to go one more rung per 24 hour time period), throwing away precious, classic hardcover editions of "Peter Rabbit" and "Flopsy Bunnies," dumping entire glasses of water all over her face, pounding away ferociously on our NEW laptop, playing with toilet brushes as if they were hair brushes, and turning on the shower head full force with piping hot water. I'm just saying, it makes it hard to get stuff done.

If you have children, maybe this sounds normal to you, kind of like a routine day with a 14 month old. But for me, I have been lulled into a stupefied state of motherhood by two very laid back, easy going man-children who could barely roll over at 9 months, considered attempting to crawl around 11, and finally thought it a worth-while pursuit to start joining the land of the hominid around a year and a half. They never ran away from me in public, weaned themselves quite nicely around 9-12 months old, and had somehow convinced me that our gene pool was a set recipe of "Mom can handle this" level of difficulty. Then this little female arrived and true to the state in which we received her (opting for the gender surprise this time around), we are running around like deer in the headlights trying to keep up with this girl.

I feel a little bad, neglecting to give the other two very much space in this entry. For the sake of not being exclusive I'll give you a little idea of what they are up to:

  • Man-child #2 spends every morning, every moment before naps, every moment after naps, every few minutes before bedtime asking if in the NEXT moment when he wakes up he can put on shorts "just fow a wittle bit!" It is freezing and the kid is obsessed with nakedness.
  • Man-child #1 spent no less than 2 hours after coming home from Pre-K changing his outfit from one ill-fitting, "it's not PERFECT" pair of pants to the next, pursuing the unattainable dream of looking, but especially FEELING just like Batman. Poor Robin waited in the wings for the full 2 hours until it was finally ready and then... it was naptime. 
  • Man-child #1 printed and sounded out two letters to his two teachers, apologizing for his lack of listening skills yesterday (he was very sensitive to it... usually doesn't have a problem with this)
  • Man-child #2 filled an entire plastic gallon bag with the smallest size Lincoln Logs, apparently to either store them away for next winter (since he hid them in the plastic food bin), or as a secret pirate loot of golden coins (since he later stored them in a plastic tupperware bin and climbed to the top of the bookshelf where it remains...)
  • Man-child #2 was given permission to don the Red Vest  on a trip over to our neighbors. Highlight of his day I think.
  • Man-child #1 had a very enlightening (what I was going for as I began my diatribe on works of fantasy and the Redemptive uses of our imagination) and in the end utterly confusing (what  I discovered was actually happening about 5 words into said diatribe) conversation with his mom about Aslan and God and the REAL. I need a different brain.
Hope this helps you feel more-than-you-ever-wanted-to-be up to date on our kids! My wonderful husband is away for the next week or so, which means I will either be awol for the next several days, or freakishly writing ineligible ramblings as I seek to connect with the outside world after countless hours spent with the worlds most delightful human beings under the age of 5!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dating Jack

Every once in awhile, I date C.S. Lewis. He's a good date, too: always available, a great listener, gets right into deep conversations. Usually our dates last for a couple of intense days, then I'll "put him back on the shelf" so to speak and we won't talk again for awhile. I like him though, and I don't mind when he talks about his wife, Joy (mostly because, well, he's dead, and I'm married and we're not really dating).

This past week we had a great time. On of the reasons I like Jack (he lets me call him this) is because of the straightforward, no-nonsense way he talks about life, people, and the Christian life. Plus, he uses words like "drudgery" and "muddled" and "trotted about". I can practically hear his crisp, British accent clipping off profound statements and practical, ridiculously reasonable arguments as though they were the simplest ideas in the world. I'm pretty sure that every line this man ever wrote is quotable. I mean, there are good writers, great theologians and sometimes a mixture of the two. But, do very many of them get books dedicated to the singular purpose of anthologizing their quotes?

Another thing I get a kick out of is the way he describes people. In today's world, when we're discussing the plights and struggles, the choices and conundrums, the failures and victories of all our varying human conditions, we tend to be pretty psychological and shall we say, "gentle" in our language. Not Jack. He calls it like it is and it is surprisingly refreshing, and helpful. He is the furthest thing from arrogant and is probably more compassionate and able to put his feet in most other people's shoes than the rest of us, but he is still honest and endlessly forthright. He believes that people can actually be fools, cowardly, lazy, and selfish. He doesn't just harp about it though, he shows us the way out.

One of the things he is most well known for and that I am always discovering in new places, is his love and appreciation for imagination. I am literally sitting on my hands as we speak trying to restrain myself from pasting all sorts of quotes in here so that you can share in the wonder. It's not just imagination though, it's the idea that this world is just a glimpse, a shadow, a faintly fleeting, distorted image of what True Reality is. There is Hope in this life precisely because we know we were created for good, things became (and remain) very bad, but because of the God-man Jesus, one day the Good and inexpressibly Delightful creation will be ours and His again. But Jack is no heavenly-minded-and-thus-no-earthly-good kind of man. As he says, "if you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next."
If you want to read a some excerpts a little more at length than what I think you will put up with here, go here.  But, really you should just read all his books!

So, that's my challenge for you this week. Read C.S. Lewis. He would say "if you want to learn more about God and Jesus and the like, don't read me, read the Bible." But I think it's great fun to do both. Most of us are mere toddlers when it comes to thinking sanely about the lives we lead. And I am thankful for the women and men God has gifted with the clarity of thought to help us along the way.

And while you're here, I would love to know what your favorite Lewis books have been or the ones you are hoping to read...

Friday, January 15, 2010

I woke to the soft, grey light of an early dawn. But all I can see today is red.

It hissed at me through the piping hot-coal-colored rods of the space heater that warmed my daughter’s room all night. She was warm and I was grateful, but I could hear those energy sucking cylinders laughing their sinister, evil cackles as they racked up an electric bill that will likely leave me in the red when the collector comes to call.

Moving on…red can be happy too. Here in China, it’s the color of choice and pride of the nation. All you have to do is don it as a scarf or sweater and you’ll likely have multiple compliments about your crimson colored beauty. Here in a nation where “red” can often have weighty political undertones, it also symbolizes such noble virtues as courage, loyalty, honor, success, fortune, fertility, happiness, and passion. It’s no wonder that the traditional Chinese wedding dress was not our lily white puff-ball of innocence, but a striking shade of fiery strength.

I have a red rug. It makes me happy. When I walk in the kitchen all hell may have broken loose; tupperware strewn about by a curious toddler, the oven not working (again) and my bread slumping miserably in a defeated state, dishes piling high and coffee burning from a busy morning.  Then, I’ll see that cheery rug with all its red, ruby goodness and a sigh of happiness goes straight to some aesthetic portion of my brain.

The red-rugged kitchen may be limited but my thoughts are soaring lately as I’ve mused my way through Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,  by Barbara Kingsolver; a book about eating locally grown food for one year. It’s a fun, insightful and very challenging read, but it inevitably leaves me a little hard-pressed to carry out any of my newfound moral principles. And all lofty principles aside, what I really want to do is just live in a farmhouse with a gigantic garden and heaps of chickens with fresh eggs while my children run around like ragamuffins with dirty knees and twigs in their hair. THAT is not going to happen anytime soon, possibly ever. The closest I can get is a small plastic pot of contaminated soil sitting on my tiled back patio. So, Barbara I love your work but all your talk of August kitchens overflowing with blood-red tomatoes and your pantry piled high with cans of homemade pasta sauces, salsas and sun-dried tomato delights is killing me. I do have a red tea kettle that reminds me of a tomato… it smiles warmly at me as I fill it’s plump, ripe, red potbelly and whistles cheerily, reminding me that there is more to life than gardens.

I think my son would enjoy a garden. But there is one green item he would gladly do without: his green coat. Ari is three and as three year olds do, has a keen sense of fashion that can rival any Gap advertisement on most days. But that is where his reasoning sensibilities end. This coat is warm, it is comfortable, it is laden with stylish capability. But the level of animosity my son feels towards this coat is the highest I have yet seen in any physical object he has come into contact with, and why? Because he is also the proud owner of a very sheek, hand-me-down, “I swear I’m not trying too hard but have somehow pulled off this incredibly outdoorsy, lumberjack look,” Red Vest. It can be fifty degrees below zero with 90 mile an hour winds whipping through your eye sockets or a sweltering, wring-your socks-out, humid summer day and this kid will still beg to wear the Red Vest. Most of the time as we start preparing to go outside, I find myself unwittingly curling into the fetal position in some sort of weird avoidance of the battle that lies ahead. Still, it is red, and it makes him happy (which I understand) even if he is limited in the amount of calendar days he actually gets to wear it.

Red is the color of my little girl’s nose when we play outside in the biting cold. She doesn’t seem to mind. Her entire body is bundled in a mass of puffiness and heat-saving layers that would rival any Chinese grandmother’s skill. But still, her nose gets chapped and ruddy with cold. It makes me think of all those little kids out there who don’t have the Olympic Winning Layers on that she does. And their fingers and toes and tiny little bums are far more numb with cold than hers will ever be. When I see my children wrapped in red coats, knowing the blessings of space heaters and rugs, tea kettles and warm clothes- I can’t help but feel a yawning ache for all those who have no resources to stay warm, and wonder what more I could do about it. I laugh at my son’s silly pickiness, but ultimately hope he grows to be thankful for what he’s been given and eager to give out of that to others. More on that next time. For now… seeing red and trying to be grateful for it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Challenge #2: A Trip Down Runner's Lane

It’s week number two and time for a new challenge. This week I decided to start with another physical, health-conscious goal, but I do promise to move on from those things next week. Plato believed that the mind and ideas are closer to true reality than the physical world, so he might agree with those of you who think I’m dealing with “lesser” things by talking about eating or exercise. But somehow, however unclear it is to us now, our bodies and the way we live and interact with the physical world around us has further reaching consequences (or benefits) than we may realize. But, all the more reason to keep trying to recover their proper place in our lives and their redeeming, life-giving, even worshipful purposes.

Philosophy aside, it’s time to start running. You heard me. Pavement pounding, lung collapsing, adrenaline pumping, running! Maybe you think it’s not for you. Maybe you run every day. For me, running has been a humorous, difficult and even endearing journey that began around the time I was in middle school.

My dad was a runner. He ran a marathon once while I was in high school. If you saw him, the words that might run through your mind would probably be more like “wood chopper… nice flannel… he likes doughnuts… must have gardened today…” but probably not “wonder what his marathon time was?... wish I had legs like that…” Sleek, toned runner or not, he has the endurance and strength of a bear (they have endurance right?) and he has always encouraged me to run. When I was starting out, he told me to go ten times in two weeks and he would buy me my first pair of real running shoes. I still remember that goal egging me on when I was struggling through the first couple days of laborious breathing and screaming calf muscles.

I’ve never run fast, or crazy long distances. Mostly I have done it as a way to quickly, cheaply, and most effectively stay in shape. But there have been times when I’ve come close to loving a run for its own sake. When I lived in the Teton Mountains of Wyoming as an 18 year old, I began to run the trails in the surrounding foothills, and often found myself lost in the beauty of the late afternoon sun glittering through the golden aspens on a crisp autumn day. Ever since then I have found more joy in the moments of simple, patterned breathing and the solitude that allows me time to just think...or to reflect on the people and places I pass.

When I was in college, I ran on the cross-country team. I still can hardly believe it. But before you either laugh at me (as my aunt did, claiming it wasn’t a “real” sport), or falsely revere me, let me give you a little context. Remember the description of my dad? Well, shave off 40 years and you have the image of the young student who approached me one day as I sat in the dining hall, chomping away on lunch. He begged, pleaded, practically guilted me into joining the team, which unbeknownst to me was on major struggle street and needed any recruits they could find. The uniforms were from the early 70’s, and the waistbands had long since lost any elasticity. So, quite often, during my final sprints to the finish line I could feel them starting to inch their way down to my knees, revealing whatever other colors I had also put on that day (never expecting to showcase them to the world). It’s hard to take a runner too seriously when that happens.

In recent years, the pursuit of a running lifestyle has continued, if somewhat sporadically. Sometimes I will go consistently for months on end, continuing through pregnancies and the time constraints of young children.  But there have been times when circumstances have caused me to stop and sometimes remain that way for awhile until I get re-motivated or figure out a way to make it work again.

These past two months I experienced another relapse when my schedule didn't permit a regular run . Now, it’s back to square one, the drawing board, the tight lungs and aching, heavy shoulders. That first hill is killing me again and the second one does me in like a pile of bricks collapsing on my head. But, I know the energy it brings to the rest of my day when I have taken time to give my body a workout. I think this benefits not only me, but my family and the people I need to have the energy to be with and give to as well. I know that even though I would never dream of saying “God made me fast," as Eric Liddell once did, I do know a sense of the, "And when I run, I feel his pleasure,” He DID make me with a body that not only needs and survives on movement, but is invigorated and made more alive through it.  And part of experiencing that is knowing his pleasure in the way he created me.

If you don’t run, my advice to you is to start small and give yourself little goals. Walk fast and run for a couple minutes in regular intervals, slowly working yourself up and challenging yourself with longer times. Do what my dad did and give yourself the 10-time goal with reward of a pair of nice shoes, or running pants. TRY it… it could bring a lifetime of funny stories, healthy habits, and a nicer fit to your jeans. And for Plato’s sake, whatever form of exercise you do will help you to enjoy the body and human-ness God gave you and created you for.

Happy Trails.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Winter in Qingdao is like the inside of an empty freezer. It's bare, it's boring, it's cold. Once in awhile you'll find a rare gem like that bag of Heath Bars you threw in to save from the melt of summer (unless your husband unknowingly downs the precious, irreplaceable stash for a late night snack). It can show up as a colorful new scarf that doesn't have any weird flowers crocheted on it. Or, a bag of chai tea given by a good friend who knows just how much you love it. Today, it came in the form of a warm coat I found and bought for my son and hoped it meant less tears tomorrow morning when he trudges off to school.

This morning I headed off to the grocery store, on my own this time because of the severe cold. I brought my camera with me, hoping to catch a few simple, bare winter shots of the city since I had no other hands holding mine. I wasn't able to take many, or find too much that grabbed my attention. But I did find that I was looking around a little more, taking time to notice people when often I am hampered by other things

The result of all this "noticing" was that I spent the rest of the day pondering what in the world I was really doing in China, wondering if what I spend my time doing is worthwhile, if I should be doing more with different types of people, if my pursuits and desires are misguided, and on and on it goes. Part of this is because being in China is the result of following a long desired and prayed for dream that started with my husband. We came here knowing we weren't going to change the world, but believing this was the place we were being Planted for the time-being. What to do but continue to learn to love our neighbors, do our daily tasks as faithfully as we can, and worship our Creator in everything we do. Sounds great. But then, on a cold winter day I head out my front door...

First stop, the fruit and vegetable stand at our front gate. The woman who mans it is a young mother whose 3 year old son is sometimes with her, playing in and amongst the baskets and crates of food, or most often is at school or with his grandmother. She is friendly and loves to talk about your skin, your health, what combinations of vegetables to eat for every malady, and of course how warmly your kids are dressed. We began talking, which quickly digressed into a mess of misunderstanding and embarrassment on my part. It kind of went as follows:
Her: "Hello!"
Me: "Hello!"
Her: "No children today?"
Me: "No, it's too cold."
Her: "The mandarins are really good today"
Me: "I know! The ones I bought yesterday were so yummy. My kids ate them all!"
Her: "no, those aren't good ones. these other one's are better. They're bigger and fresher."
Me: "Oh, I liked those because they were really sugar (meant to say "sweet")"
Her: (pauses, probably wondering what kind of fruit eaters we are anyway)
Are your feet cold?
Me: These eggplants?
Her: No, your feet, Are your feet cold?
Me: These vegetables (what the heck are these anyway)?
Her: No, your FEET
Me: my FEET, oh... no, those aren't cold. are yours?
Her: Yes, it's very cold.
Me: My friend told me she talked with you the other day and you guys talked about Jesus and she started crying (this probably sounds as crude as I said it b/c my language ability is so simple)
Her: Oh yes, we were both crying! I was not feeling well that day. You are friends with her?
Me: Yes, she is a very good person, very good friend.

At this point we digress into a long conversation about what to wash your vegetables with wherein she tries to tell me about a friend she has who uses a special solution that is, of course, VERY GOOD and she tries to tell me when her friend is stopping by if I want to check it out... the language gets so mixed up at several points that at the end she says...

Her: So, your friend said she knows someone who is able to speak very good Chinese. That friend isn't you, is it.
Me: No... no. No, no. That friend is not me.

In China, everything is about guanxi, or "relationship." I know this and so my stumbly, rocky attempts at building relationships with anyone who doesn't speak English here are pretty discouraging. Sometimes I tell myself it doesn't matter. Maybe in 5 years, or 10 or 20 when I'm ready to leave or something I'll be able to speak the language well enough to really get to know someone. Sometimes I think that I'm doing what I can with what I've been given: the people and English-speaking neighbors around me. But, at other times, like today, I just wonder what in the world I'm doing or trying to do here at all.

Then I come home, to my warm home and healthy children, and wonder what I should be doing differently, since I have so much abundance? What kind of things do you do... radical or otherwise, to be part of God's redemptive balm on this world? Are any of them enough or do we just always feel like they aren't until He makes it all new?

I want to be thankful, but generous to overflowing; busy at home, but opening it and pouring out of it to others; "balanced" but ready to be out-of-balance if faith calls for extreme action (I'm thinking time or resource-wise here not bombing clinics or anything).

May your wintry days bring you pondering thoughts in this New Year...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

You need a challenge. I am going to give you one. Because our relationship is so tightly bound together by all sorts of concrete tethers like cyberspace and anonymity, I am sure you will not be able to refuse.

I know it's a little hokey... New Year's resolutions and all, but I just can't help myself. That slim and sleek looking January 1 rolls around with it's stand-up-with-your-back-straight and suck-it-in look on it's face and I can't resist but make some pledges to change. But that is not entirely what I am challenging you with. I just think it's good to take stock. To look back and evaluate yourself in light of Truth and ask for eyes to see where humility and change are needed. Yes, of course you should be doing this all the time and not just once every 12 months, WE KNOW. It's just a way to have a fresh start, a new beginning. I think God is all about those.

So, the challenge to MYSELF is to, 1) take on these challenges in my own life (duh) since I thought of them and, 2) to write about them once a week. One new challenge every week for the 5 weeks of January. If you hate what I suggest then pick your own (GOOD GRIEF), I won't be hurt and even though we're so close, I likely won't even know about it. But, do pick your own and go for it with all the gusto of an old car spinning out in the newly fallen January snow (I tried to think of a more hopeful picture to inspire you but it is a NEW YEAR'S resolution you know...)

Because I'm in kind of a snarky mood tonight I am going to start the list off with a light-hearted one. But stay with me, we will go deeper...

Challenge #1: OUT WITH THE SODA!! (or pop or coke, or "spicey" as my kids call it)

Maybe you are already saying "I QUIT." Well, get back here. You can't. Remember our unbreakable bond?
Soda is the most useless form of consumption I can think of (right now...unaided by any research resources outside of Googling). It might taste good but it is pure SUGAR and does absolutely nothing for you besides coat your teeth and your gut with life-sucking excess. And there are so many more wonderful things to drink!
This  may or may not be inspiring anything but rage in you so I'll just say that it's not called a CHALLENGE for nothing. If you need a sugar hit, do something more natural, even eat a chocolate covered almond (mmmm... my favorite) but stop drinking plastic, hydrogenated corn syrup. I have to believe you will notice a difference in how you feel and maybe even look if you give it up. There are lots of other good reasons. Look them up:)

If you get bored by water, drink it anyway, but add something else fun. I have to have a sugary mug of chai tea every afternoon.

I wish you all the best and promise to have a less diet-infringing challenge next week, possibly even something that deals with the soul instead of the ever-popular health of our bodies!